Fitness issues are once again being linked to the Northern Mystics' struggles in the ANZ Championship.
The Mystics - tipped to be one of the pace setters in the New Zealand conference - have been disappointing in the opening rounds, collecting just one point from their three outings. In their opening two losses, the Auckland side were in control in patches, only to fold in the final quarter, while last week they could manage only a draw against the Central Pulse despite leading by nine goals at one stage in the first half.
But Mystics coach Debbie Fuller insists it is not a lack of application to their fitness programmes that is hindering her side. She said the coaching staff made the decision to put the team on an intensified programme in the weeks leading up to the start of the season, which has seen them overloaded through the opening rounds.
"One thing we recognised in the pre-season was that we were fit, some of the players were producing personal bests in their testing, but we weren't running hardened," said Fuller.
"So for five weeks we've been doing a conditioning top-up, and we talked to the girls that potentially in the first three games they're going to play dead, because they're going to be more overloaded more than they would be, instead of tapering. But they took that on as a challenge and we are now at the tapering end of it.
"We had really successful results yesterday in our testing, so we're really happy with the work they've put in."
It's a strategy Mystics' technical coach Jane Woodlands-Thompson has used to great success to help her former Adelaide Thunderbirds side peak at the right time. .
Once the season starts, there is little room to increase base fitness, as the grind of playing week-in, week-out puts the focus of match preparation and recovery. However, because of the league's conference system, which ensures three New Zealand teams will advance through to the play-offs, the Mystics have the luxury of knowing a slow start will not hurt their title hopes.
Still, a one-point return from the first three rounds is not the result the Mystics would have hoped for. The Auckland side are now under pressure to get their first win on Monday night when they take on the Mainland Tactix in Christchurch.
The Mystics will have their full complement of players available for the first time this season for the round four match-up. English import Serena Guthrie has been on a restricted workload after picking up an Achilles injury in the preseason and has made only fleeting appearances this year. The dynamic midcourter, who was last year named the ANZ Championship's best newcomer, was cleared to return to full duties this week and is a 60-minute option on Monday.
Likewise Nadia Loveday, the only attacking midcourter on the Mystics roster, has also been cleared to play a full match, after making her first appearance of the season in last week's draw against the Pulse. Loveday had been sidelined for five weeks with a back injury.
The pair's injury struggles have forced the Mystics to re-jig their midcourt in the lead-up to the season, impressive youngster Fa'amu Ioane taking on the wing attack duties, and converted defender Kayla Cullen in the centre bib.
Fuller said having a full contingent of midcourters available takes a lot of pressure off.