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Fern's off-season soul-searching means fresh start, writes Dana Johannsen.

It would have been tempting for Northern Mystics shooter Maria Tutaia to write off 2011 as an awful year and never revisit it again.

But the enigmatic Ferns star has instead spent a great deal of the off-season thinking of nothing but her disappointing season last year.

And she's come to a conclusion: "I'm so sick of coming second."


Last year, Tutaia collected far too much silver for her liking.

The Mystics were well-beaten by the Queensland Firebirds in last year's ANZ Championship grand final, before the gut-wrenching overtime loss to Australia at the world championships in Singapore six weeks later.

That loss clearly still hurts. Tutaia carefully avoids even mentioning the words "world champs" or "Singapore".

But she has learned second place comes with a variety of silver linings.

"If anything it has been good for me, I mean it wasn't fun winning silver, but I've taken a lot of positives out of it and I've learned a lot about myself which I never would have known if I hadn't been tested in that way," she said.

To get to this point where she can see the positives has taken a lot of honest self-reflection.

Tutaia wanted to ensure "last year doesn't happen again", so - together with her parents, Niukini and Fuisami - she sat down and analysed her performances. The family inquisition proved revealing.

Their assessment was that Tutaia had the tendency to "let her mind drift off to Samoa" at stages in games.

She might start a quarter well, cutting across the top of the circle and slotting her trademark long-bombs, only to go missing for five minutes where she hardly gets her hands on the ball at all.

Then for the last five minutes of the quarter she is back sending the ball swishing through the net with ridiculous ease.

At other times, Tutaia said she found herself getting bogged down by a defender and become frustrated, which saw her game disintegrate completely.

"There have been times where I have got myself into a situation where I've got into a bit of a rut and kept digging myself a deeper hole."

Now she has identified her weaknesses, Tutaia is approaching 2012 armed with strategies that she hopes will take her from flake to fighter.

She has worked on adopting a new mental approach to help her turn things around when things are not going well for her out on court.

"When things are not working, I need to think about what else have I got in my bag of tricks to get myself out of this?" Tutaia said.

"This year for me - and I know I've said it before - is all about consistency."

Mystics coach Debbie Fuller said the change in her star shooter's psyche this year had been noticeable.

"She's an absolute champion and she's grown in to the ultimate professional. She is always wanting to try new things and improve herself.

"She has a quiet warrior within her," said the coach.

Fuller will be relying on her shooting pairing of Tutaia and Cathrine Latu to fire this season, with a very defence-heavy line-up putting the squeeze on the Mystics attacking options.

Silver Fern squad member Grace Rasmussen has been impressive at goal attack in the preseason after coming back from a knee injury, but her time in the goal circle may be limited as she is also the Mystics' sole cover at wing attack.

But Fuller believes the biggest challenge for her side this year is making the mental adjustment from being a side that has previously been written off as underachievers to a team that big things are expected of.

"In a way we're the hunted - I guess people will now see us as a threat."