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Beko Netball League leaders eyeing up key challenge

It has taken a while for Waikato-BOP’s Rebecca Gabel to watch the game as a coach, but she certainly likes what she is seeing this year.

Gabel is well known for her time as a player in the Magic midcourt and is now making her mark as a coach with the Waikato-BOP Zone in the Beko Netball League.

She is preparing her charges – who remain unbeaten after five games – for a big two weekends with her team to play Central Manawa on Sunday in Wellington in the first of back-to-back clashes against the defending champions.

They then host Central in Hamilton the following weekend in what may act as a dress rehearsal for the May 19 Grand Final with Waikato-BOP, sitting atop the Beko Netball League ladder, and second-placed Central enjoying a buffer on the points table.

But Gabel is not looking that far ahead as she attempts to guide her young team through a tough few games.

“We’re very aware of Central’s strengths, particularly with their ANZ Premiership players in the mix, but we’re looking forward to the challenge ahead,” she said.

It is Gabel’s first year as head coach of the Beko Netball League team but she was in the coaching box when they lost to Central in last year’s thrilling final.

“We’ve got a young team this year and not many were involved in the final,” she said. “But as a coach I’ve reflected on that game, taken the lessons from it and moved on.”

It has taken some time for Gabel to look at the game as a coach having been heavily invested as a player for a number of years.

“I had a really good year last year learning from Mary-Jane Araroa which was such a good introduction to the Beko League,” she said.

“It’s taken me a long time to start seeing a game as a coach. When I first started it was as a player-coach and I was still seeing things from a player’s perspective. Now I’m solely focused on coaching and you do start to see things differently.

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“I’m still learning but I’ve liked what I’ve seen this year.”

What she sees is a need for Waikato-BOP to play the “possession” game against Central.

“Maintaining possession is going to be really important and just that consistency over four quarters,” Gabel said. “We’ve been working hard at building connections and trying to give opportunities to our players.”

Teenage shooter Khiarna Williams is one of those players making the most of her time in the Beko Netball League, proving a shooting rock for Waikato-BOP.

The 16-year-old was part of the side last year but gained little court time. That has changed this season as she steps into the main scoring role.

“She’s an exciting player who is just getting better every time she plays,” Gabel said. “The Beko League is certainly ideal for someone like Khiarna in helping them to learn those ‘elite habits’.”

Gabel has also been close at hand to see other players emerge from the Beko Netball League and transition into the Magic at a higher level.

Shooter Kelsey McPhee has found her feet in the ANZ Premiership along with Simmon Howe and Jenna O’Sullivan.

“It is really satisfying to see these players develop in the Zone and take that next step up,” Gabel said.

Meanwhile, the other Beko Netball League game this weekend will see the Northern Comets host Hellers Mainland in Auckland on Sunday.