Ten years. A lot can happen in the span of that time.
Just ask Tara Maland, who still continues to be fuelled by a love for volleyball ten years since first falling for the sport during the eighth grade. It’s now the fourth season being apart of the national women’s team The Volleyroos for Maland.
She acknowledges that making the national team had “always been a goal” for her to achieve once upon a time.
“It means a lot to me,” Maland shared with The Inner Sanctum.
“Wanting to get to represent the country and at the highest level wearing the green and gold is one of the coolest things I think anyone can do in sport.”
For the South Australian, the discovery of the sport followed a tenure into tennis and basketball. But it wasn’t before long that she soon had attention turned to the “uniqueness” of volleyball completely.
Since making the switch to volleyball, the 23-year-old hasn’t looked back as she continues to remain appreciative of the “opportunities” given to her in her career so far which includes travelling across the globe to places such as the Czech Republic, and the chance to represent in her sport at state and national level.
From a young age, Maland has understood the importance of utilising every opportunity that presents itself in life. It’s a lesson instilled in her during her younger years, which she concedes has had the biggest impact on her through her sporting career so far.
“A coach when I was a junior said just to take every opportunity that’s put in front of you,” she explained.
“That mentality [was what] I went with for the remainder of my career until now.
“I think that saying yes to lots of different opportunities has made me the player that I am, and it’s given me a lot of success so far,” she says.
Perhaps it’s that mindset and work ethic which saw Maland receive her first professional contract after she signed with Swedish club Gislaved Elit for the 2021/22 season.
“I was with my partner, and then we just got really excited and started ringing everyone we wanted to tell,” she reminisced after being asked what her initial reaction to her most recent achievement. The news of her contract offer, as the volleyballer explained, was made more memorable as it coincided with the ongoing lockdowns at the time.
She went onto further explain that it was also “strange” given the circumstances she had received the news under.
“We then rang my agent and he talked me through the process of what was going to happen next. You definitely couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.”
Although for Maland, the opportunity to fly over to another country also caused her to feel apprehensive about temporarily relocating to Sweden.
“After it all had settled in, I definitely got a bit a nervous because it did mean moving to another country for eight months. But I was definitely very excited at the same,” she said.
She is grateful for the opportunity to play in Sweden during the past year. She fondly adds that outside of making the national team, the international contract marked another goal of hers on the list, which she can now say that she’s achieved. When speaking about it, she says she feels proud to get the chance to play as a full time athlete whilst at Gislaved Elit.
For Maland, the very same partner who was with her at the time she received news of her international contract, also forms part of her answer to who her biggest inspirations in life are. Like Maland, Ethan Garrett is also a professional volleyball player and is currently on the national men’s Volleyroo’s team. Maland proudly shares that Garrett is someone who she looks up to in the way that he plays.
Her other inspiration that she lists is two-time American Olympic volleyballer Kelsey Robinson, who Maland says is her role model that she follows as an athlete.
“I just really enjoy watching her as a player and trying to learn from her. She has a lot of really cool achievements that she’s [accomplished],” Maland explains.
Robinson currently has two Olympic medals to her name. Her first was in 2016 at the Rio games which was bronze. At the most recent games in Toyko, the 30-year-old improved on her result returning back to the States with the gold.
“She’s everything that I would want to become as a volleyballer,” she said.
But for Maland, things weren’t always smooth sailing. Her biggest challenge occurring at the start of her senior career.
Right when things were looking the brightest they had ever been for the South Australian, a shoulder injury saw the 23-year-old sat on the sideline during the season.
Going through rehab was a challenge for Maland. Her absence from the game, and the time it took to look after her shoulder had taken a toll on the volleyballer. Throughout her recovery, the volleyballer continued to push through the pain. Her ambition to succeed in the sport was at the forefront of her mind.
“That challenge for me was really tough,” she admits.
“It almost took me out of the sport.”
A silver lining had come in the form of a position swap for the volleyballer, where is now currently plays as a libero. She explains that her change in her on court position led to her making the national team, which she recalls as being “one of the best things to happen” to her.
“I really wanted to achieve my goals of making the Australian team at the time, so that was something that pushed me through the hard moments.
“I think between my mindset and the outward support I had from my team was something that made me get through [the injury].”
In her fourth season with the Volleyroos, Maland is continuing to thrive and enjoying every chance to wear the Australian colours.
“I think that anytime that I put on my green and gold jersey, I feel really proud. When I think back on my career so far, I can remember every time I got to do it because it’s been so special,” she says.
When asked about what drew her to the sport, she fondly speaks about the social aspect of volleyball. Speaking with Maland, it’s clear that a social culture is what at the heart of the Women’s Volleyroos.
“Playing with the group of women that we get to means a lot to me.
“It’s a hard working group of girls that are very dedicated, love and want to support each other, and do anything we can to be the best team we can.
“That’s a really great environment to be apart of.”
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