Nina Khoury’s Jillaroos blog from Japan

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SUSF Elite Athlete Program (EAP) scholarship holder and University of Sydney student Nina Khoury is currently in Japan with the Jillaroos hockey team preparing for July’s Junior World Cup. Check out Nina’s blog.

Whilst my Sydney friends settled into STUVAC, I along with the rest of my Jillaroos (the Australian U/21 Hockey team) teammates and coaches headed to Gifu, Japan for our final preparatory tour before the Junior World Cup to be held in Germany, late July. Although only seeing each other a month ago in Perth where we competed against the Hockeyroos (the senior Australian team) in a training camp series, everyone was extremely excited to be back together for our first international trip as the Jillaroos.

Thursday June 13

Upon arriving in Gifu, we had endured 14 hours of flying, one very skeptical breakfast and a two hour bus trip. Unfortunately our rooms were not ready upon arrival, and we embarked on a very difficult game of charades with the hotel staff to try and get the air conditioner on in the room we had been given (we were clearly from an Australian winter and not ready for the humid 28C). As we got ready for our afternoon training session, I discovered I had melted my hockey shoes in front of the heater the previous day (lucky I packed spares) whilst another NSW girl was forced to snap open her bag lock because she’d forgotten the code – not a great start for the Blues. We spent the afternoon on the pitch and as every athlete knows, never trust your coach when they tell you it’s going to be a ‘light session’. We also lost trust in our assistant coach when he informed us that ‘we wouldn’t get burnt because of the ozone layer’…… Let’s just say we were all very burnt, had prominent (and ugly) tan lines and slept soundly that night.

Friday June 14
Our second day in Gifu consisted of two hard training sessions, one being the most entertaining training session I have ever had. Following our tough morning session, we ice bathed, had a meeting and enjoyed our first ‘bento box’. Our second session of the day, however, saw the Japanese asking Jig – our coach’s nickname (or Mr Jig as they like to call him), whether they could turn on the music. Unfortunately for ‘Mr Jig’ he didn’t realise what volume this music would be played at. Five minutes he later saw Japanese ‘pop hits’ blaring over the speakers, so loud in fact that the people in Tokyo could have heard. The stadium where we are playing is situated next to an air force base so it is already quite loud at times. As Jig (and everyone) continued to try and yell over the Japanese ballads, we couldn’t help but giggle. The eventful session ended with our bus nearly rolling backwards into oncoming traffic as he repeatedly stalled on our steep driveway. That night we enjoyed some great Japanese food – the food has been brilliant so far (although luckily we brought our own breakfast – no one seems too keen on fish for breakfast) – finishing the night with a positive team meeting, in preparation for the next days game!

As any athlete knows game day brings meetings, physio treatments and a lot of strapping. We knew the Japanese would be quick, structured and tenacious in the circle and that we had to respond with dynamic movements and hard running off the ball. They proved us right with a bench of 30 players (in comparison to our 16 players) that were constantly rotating. Although we had our opportunities, we weren’t as connected as we have been previously – leaving exploitable gaps in our press and out letting structures. The game finished with a 2-2 draw – the wet conditions lending towards their counter attacking style. Although it wasn’t the Jillaroos best performance, our coaches identified a number of simple adjustments that would ensure we controlled the next day’s game and get the result we wanted.

Saturday June 15
The trip so far has been full of challenges. Whether it be the lack of ice (anywhere) for our ice baths, the Japanese cuisine before a game, the unfortunate cream in our coffee, or playing charades with hotel staff, bus drivers and umpires. The Jillaroos have faced and embraced each scenario – evidenced by our 5-2 win today. Due to injuries we were left with a bench of three, the coach even asking whether one of our goalies had played on the field before (luckily he was joking). We were able to implement the coach’s specific instructions and control the entire game through our strong pressing structure. Today’s game was a very positive step towards the Junior World Cup – we connected well, moved the ball quickly and attacked the space. Our bus trip home demonstrated how much we like to win – with a number of group rapping, and ‘beat boxing/making’ performances. Evidently, the Jillaroos like to celebrate.

Tomorrow is a rest day, and considering the high amount of minutes and the time that we have spent on the field in the past few days, we deserve it! Japan sightseeing here we come.

Until next time,

Nina

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