'She's one of the most exciting players'
NETBALL: Hard work and extraordinary committment has always defined Sunshine Coast Lightning shooter Cara Koenen and it hasn't gone unnoticed by the fledgling club's coaches.
Asisstant coach Kylie Byrne this morning singled out Koenen as the most improved athlete in terms of strength and conditioning tests since the squad was brought together.
It would come as no surprise to those who've watched the Magnetic Island 20-year-old rise through the Queensland ranks.
Even in her senior year of high school she would regularly fly to Brisbane from Townsville for state under-19 training and became the side's MVP in a championship year.
Koenen and her Lightning teammates returned to training this morning minus international stars Geva Mentor (England) and Karla Mostert (South Africa) who are away on international duties.
And with fellow shooter Stephanie Wood expected to join the Diamonds camp at the end of next week for the Quad Series in South Africa, it represents a chance for Koenen to shine in attack at training.
"Leading into the break she was the one all of our service providers said had made the most gains in terms of strength work and physical work," Byrne said.
"Just the chance to be training day in and day out against the best defenders (like Mentor and Erenea Mikaere) in the world means her game has already dramatically improved. She's one of the most exciting (players) in the squad."
But it's at Lightning where she has, as head coach Noeline Taurua would say, "sharpened the sword" alongside Diamonds shooter Caitlin Bassett and Wood.
"Obviously with Caitlin being a very tall shooter and Steph being a moving goal attack, I'd really like to pick up both parts of their game and take it into mine," Koenen said.
The pre-Christmas focus of building physicality and strength will now shift toward building on-court strategies and unit work, Byrne said.
She said the players had kept up with training over the break and with just 45 days until the side's opening round clash against Queensland Firebirds in Brisbane, she's confident they've returned in good order.
"They were on a really strict program especially on the strength and conditioning side of things," Byrne said.
"They'd made huge gains prior to Christmas. You don't want to back off then start again. We've kept tabs on them all but mostly it was a mental break to get away and have down time. Now we've started, there's no stopping until the end (of the season)."
Fans continue to get behind Lightning in the lead up to round one, with a contingent of fans watching from above at Matthew Flinders Anglican College this morning.