Honey's hiatus leaves her itching to get back on court

3 months ago

Among a full house of elite athletes, and one high performance coach - her mum and the Victorian Fury’s Head Coach, Di - Tayla Honey holds an unwanted record.

Her last minute of official sporting competition came back in 2018.

That was the Bupa VNL Grand Final, in which Honey’s Geelong Cougars were defeated by the City West Falcons. Soon after, she was promoted to the Melbourne Vixens’ primary squad of 10 after two years as a Training Partner and regular replacement player, only for an Achilles tear last February to scuttle her debut season.

Almost 15 months later, in the midst of the coronavirus hiatus, the 22-year-old is training at home alongside her twin siblings Olivia (a former netballer-turned-sprinter and current member of the Australian 20/U 4x100m relay squad) and Josh (a budding AFL forward, chosen by Carlton at No.3 in the 2019 AFL rookie draft).

And, yes, throw in dad, Neil (a medal-winning Commonwealth Games pole vaulter), and the family Uno games can get competitive. Very.

So to say that the eldest Honey is child itching for Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) to begin - in whatever form that may be - is a major understatement.

“I felt sick when they said that they might cancel it for the year,’’ says Tayla, who combined injury rehab with her law studies at Monash University. “I was like ‘oh, how am I going to do a third pre-season in a row without playing any games?’

“The last time I played a competitive netball game where points were on the line was August 2018. So if I can’t play play until 2021 that’s a long time between drinks.’’

Optimism is growing that the resumption will be much sooner but, in the meantime, Tayla is in fine sporting company at the family’s Keilor Downs home. Olivia and Di - a former Diamond and longtime Vixens’ Assistant Coach — act as throwing partners, there is ample space nearby, and a home workout area under the backyard pergola has been well-stocked by the VIS, Carlton, and Maribyrnong College.

“We’ve got enough gym equipment to sink a battleship,’’ says Di, the subject of some social media banter about the quality of her ball skills. Or, in her words; “I’ve been the passer for Tayla’s footwork drills and she’s been bagging me on Instagram.’’

In Tayla’s; “I think Mum needs to brush up on her lobs a little bit - she goes all right apart from that!"

“It’s really good to have her for a coaching perspective, because she obviously has been in the Vixens’ environment, and knows what is expected of us, so it’s handy in that sense.’’

In her official coaching role, Di is currently limited to working with the four athletes - Tori Honner, Mel Olemanu, Rahni Samason, and Tegan Stephenson - from her 15-strong Fury squad who are not Vixens Training Partners or members of Cathy Fellows’ VIS development squad. Completing the Fury group is Training Partner Sarah Szcyulski from Seymour.

“It all works really well, because the three programs are all aligned, we’re all doing similar things, and everyone’s on the same page,’’ says Di, whose Deakin University Australian Netball League season was due to start on May 2, but for whom - as for the Vixens - all group training was shut down in mid-March.

“So we just have Zoom meetings, we catch up, I send out content, ball skills and footwork agility stuff. Ian Miller, the strength and conditioning coach, is sending out their gym program and I’ve just tried for the training structure to be the same as if we were in season.

“They post their sessions, and we chat and try and keep them updated and motivated, because we don’t even know if the season will go ahead.’’

There is more optimism and expectation around the future of SSN, where Tayla’s only experience was a couple of minutes in place of a bloodied Liz Watson in the horror loss to the West Coast Fever late in 2018, in which Mwai Kumwenda ruptured her ACL and the Vixens’ finals chances suffered a mortal wound.

Does that officially count as a debut? “I’d say no - I don’t think so,’’ laughs Tayla, whose focus had been on an overdue initiation via the annual Team Girls Cup and practice matches scheduled against the Thunderbirds and Magpies before COVID-19 intervened.

“I was really excited to dip my toes in before the season started, but that’s all right. I’ll just have to go straight into it and adjust to the intensity pretty quickly, I guess,’’ says the speedy midcourter.

“Most of our team’s in the Diamonds, nearly, so I’m training against the best in the country, which is reassuring as well.’’

With an announcement on a potential start date due on May 31, the 2020 program remains unclear. But among the certainties is the fact that Tayla Honey will be ready.

“I’m raring to go. I can’t wait. Words can’t even describe how excited I am.’’

By Linda Pearce

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