Nine years after making her Australian Diamonds debut, Paige Hadley started in her first Australian final in their Quad Series victory over England in London. According to the midcourter, it was visits to a mindfulness coach that she had to thank for taking her game to another level.
Selected in the Diamonds' Constellation Cup squad in New Zealand early last year, Hadley undertook the mandatory two weeks' quarantine and trained hard with the squad, only to watch the games from the sidelines as she failed to gain game day selection. It was a tough time for the 29-year-old, but also a wake-up call.
"If you rewind to the Constellation Cup, I went on the tour and obviously didn't get a chance to be in the playing side, and that was tough," Hadley said. "Going through quarantine and then not getting the opportunity.
"I obviously took the feedback that [Australian Diamonds coach] Stacey [Marinkovich] gave me and Briony and I sat down and worked out OK, what do we need to do?
"I decided my sole focus has to be on being better physically and mentally and so I met a mindfulness coach and I think she's changed the way I think and the way I approach everything."
Meeting with a mindfulness coach throughout the season, Hadley began to find a way to quiet her mind, focus on only the things she can control while pushing out any distractions that could take away from her game. It quickly took her to a new level, as she led her team to a second Super Netball title in three years with the midcourter playing some of her best netball in her career.
"Previously before I did all this [mindfulness] work I worried about so many things. I worried about my team and making sure they're OK, I had thought of am I good enough? Am I prepared?
"Whereas now it's about focusing on me and what I can control cause that's all I can worry about and just having a flash in the game of what I want to focus on, not worrying about score, umpire, opponent, there's so many things that you can worry about and then you can just see your game changing.
"You don't lose skill though, you train really hard on all these things, it's what you're thinking about, what's in your mind, so I think that part of my game took a big jump up."
She had plenty to work on physically as well, with her Swifts coach Akle continually pushing her along the way.
"Physically it was about my jump and being able to like repeatedly be able to produce force," the Swifts co-captain said. "It's very technical, but I was able to go from a starting position and produce force but to go from a counter movement I wasn't be able to, so it's about physically trying to get that in my game, so I can continually produce force and physically feel great.
"The more you feel great physically in your body, the more that you can do to perform out there and I think there was little things like being able to stay ahead of the game and the play. I think sometimes you've seen me floating behind the ball, where now it's about me projecting myself into the play and being involved.
"Briony just challenges me, every single day she challenges me, and she's on this journey with me and she always says my best netball is to come. To have my coach say that to me that brings so much confidence in me that I do have more to give to the red dress and hopefully that equates to a few more premierships before I'm done."
Hadley would go on to back up a stellar 2021 season with some of her best performances in the green and gold dress in London earlier this year. With near perfect performances, she was only overshadowed by series MVP Gretel Bueta and missed just one match - the Diamonds Round 3 loss to England.
"That Diamonds performance, I think that was on the back of a good Super Netball season with the Swifts, if you're winning games and you're playing great netball, that definitely helps and that's why my focus is solely on Swifts now and going forward.
"Going on that tour, and being in the starting seven in the final, I've never been in a final for Australia and actually started. I debuted in 2013, so it took nearly nine years to get that opportunity, but it was definitely worth the wait.
"I know though there's no time to rest, I want to keep pushing. The midcourt in Australia is phenomenal, there's players like Kelsey [Browne], Ravs [Kim Ravaillion], who aren't even in the squad and they're world class players, so it's going to be a big season ahead for all of us."
While the Commonwealth Games are clear in Hadley's mind, her focus for right now is the Super Netball season ahead with the Swifts attempting to earn back-to-back championships. Maintaining a mostly unchanged squad from last year's title-winning side, Hadley has retained her co-captain role alongside Maddy Proud and believes the family environment is what keeps girls committed to the program.
"I think you know it's like family, a lot of our girls lived together. They're from Trinidad, England, Adelaide, everywhere and they've come to Sydney and made a life made a home and we're family. The first years together were tough, we probably came six or seventh those first few years, so we just continued to grow together and it's exciting now too having won two premierships together and wanting more.
"The seven that signed on, signed on within days and just goes to show that we're here, we want to push each other, we want to challenge each other, and we want to be better.
"This year there's going to be so many curveballs with COVID and who knows what's going to be thrown at us, we've just got to keep pushing, one thing we learned last year we had to be able to adapt. I think we moved around four or five times, we had kids who were in isolation, the kids got sent home, it was manic but I think it put us in good stead to be able to just roll with the punches."
As the countdown to season 2022 begins, Hadley can reflect on just how far she's come in her 11 season in Super Netball and the journey she's taken along the way, but even as the oldest in the Swifts squad, she believes she's still got plenty to learn and her best netball is still ahead of her.
"It's honestly crazy, when I sit back and reflect on the full circle of what's happened," Hadley said. "It's super special and for me to be able to play so many years with one club and it be the club that I looked up to growing up watching, it's so surreal and it's special to be able to bring people into the environment and just cherish them and grow them and challenge them.
"Obviously I'm not 21 anymore, so I am one of the older ones, but I think Briony challenges me in new ways that has me thinking 'how can I still be challenged?' I'm 29, I've been around 11 or 12 seasons, but I love it.
"Briony and I speak about it some of my best netball is still to come and that's just testament of what I've gone through, the journey, up and down, on and off injuries. I feel like things are slowly pulling together and I thought last year I took a big step forward and then hopefully I can continue to grow and build leading into another championship."