Sport

Olivia returns home to the nest

By Riverine Herald

SOMETIMES the lure of home is just too strong to ignore.

Olivia Taverna discovered that in the lead up to the 2019 season when the phone began to ring.

On the other end was newly appointed Moama co-coach Charlotte Long, who alongside Alex Daly had been tasked with taking over from Jacqui James.

Her message was clear — we want you back in the black and white.

After flying the nest to join Tongala for 2018 — in pursuit of a new challenge — Taverna knew that an opportunity in the Murray Netball League juggernaut was too good to ignore.

Given she is completing her VCE studies this year, a move closer to home was beneficial on all fronts.

‘‘Netball gives me a chance to get away from the stress which school can bring,’’ she said.

‘‘Tongala is a great club who did plenty for my development, but Moama is home.

‘‘Leaving Moama in the first place was extremely difficult.

‘‘There is something special about the club which drew me back.

‘‘When the call came through it became possible to ignore, I just knew I had to be part of the team.’’

In sport, you can sometimes be drawn to the people who are leading the team — a factor in Taverna’s return to the Magpies.

Taverna speaks highly of Tongala coach Caddison Mulholland given she gave her the opportunity to play senior netball on a full-time basis.

But the opportunity to work alongside Daly and Long was too hard to ignore.

“They put in a lot of work to make sure that they we are all getting the best out of ourselves,’’ Taverna explained.

“Both of them won’t do anything that goes away from our game plan which is really important.

“Individuals are always going to make mistakes and they want the entire team to learn from the mistakes someone makes.

‘‘I already feel like I’m a much better player than I was when we started pre-season training.’’

The family connection the Taverna family holds at the Magpies is a special one.

Mum Nicolina has been involved with the club for over 20 years, performing various roles including playing netball after the birth of her two daughters.

While in 2019, Olivia has the opportunity to play with older sister Emily for the first time — with both having pulled on the black and white over 150 times.

An opportunity they both simply couldn’t pass up.

“I’ve always looked up to Emily my whole life,’’ Olivia said.

‘‘She’s not only my sister but my best friend as well.

“It can be a lot harder hearing criticism from her than any of the other girls.

“Sometimes I do feel like turning around and telling her to shut up and let me play.

“To be playing in a strong team together isn’t an opportunity many people have.’’

But when Emily and Olivia take to the court it feels like they aren’t the only siblings — the team thinks of themselves as one big family.

You just need to look at the Friday night dinners the team has before every home game.

All players are invited to the Taverna house, where Nicolina ‘‘cooks up a storm’’ according to Olivia.

‘‘We’re really grateful for how involved Mum still is with the club,’’ she said.

‘‘Spending time together off the court certainly helps to build our bond as a team.

‘‘Even before I joined you could tell how strong the connection was between all of the girls.

‘‘As the youngster, it feels like I’m playing with my older sisters.’’

While the family feel is well and truly alive at the nest, a special bond exists at the defensive end of the court.

Ange Slattery has taken Taverna under her wing, guiding her to help her reach the peak of her powers.

‘‘She is an amazing player, I’ve always been in awe of the way she plays,’’ Taverna explained.

“I’m learning so much from her and the way she directs me in the ring.

“There is never any negative comments and she encourages me to play my game.

‘‘I’ve been lucky to have her as a mentor.’’

Given Moama are the reigning back-to-back pressure, there is a certain level of expectation which comes with playing in the team.

Those standards can either be set for the entire season or on a week-by-week basis — and Taverna is enjoying the challenges she faces.

“There is no understating the step up from junior netball to A grade,’’ she said.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m letting the team down when I have a poor game but the girls are always telling me to keep my head up.

‘‘Being the new player in a team can always be hard, especially when the girls have played for so long together.

‘‘The expectations drive me to become a better player and to show I belong in this team.’’

Coaches will always tell their players to not look too far ahead in sport, but all players dream of the ultimate success.

Based on current form Moama are poised to be playing on the final day of the season once more — and Taverna wants to help lift the premiership trophy.

‘‘It would be a dream come true,’’ she said.

‘‘Everyone knows how difficult premierships are to win.

‘‘I couldn’t ask for a better homecoming.’’