AFTER more than two months of individual running programs and ball work on a local cricket pitch, Gerringong's Grace Stewart has finally returned to Hockeyroos' team training.
In March, Hockey Australia suspended the Hockeyroos program, seeing a majority of the squad return to their respective home states.
One that didn't was Kiama High School alumna Stewart, as her partner Will Grant was still working in Perth.
This meant the 23-year-old spent a lot of time on her own training.
"Our return to training came at the perfect time, as I was starting to lose motivation to keep doing my own sessions," Stewart, who also used the time to get on top of her Primary Education degree at university, said.
"As much as I love my fitness and hockey, you need some variety and I was quite limited to what I could do during lockdown.
"Thankfully our return to team training has sparked my motivation, as it's a lot more fun chasing hockey balls than pavement."
Only 13 of the Hockeyroos' squad are currently in Western Australia, with only eight attending regular sessions because of work commitments.
"We started last Wednesday and they've eased us back into it," she said.
"We did a 2km time trial at the start, to see where we were all at.
"Since then, we've been doing skill work three times a week, along with two gym sessions and running on Saturday.
"I've really enjoyed how spread out our workload has been.
"Considering I haven't had more than two weeks off hockey the past 10 years, my skills weren't that rusty upon the return to a number of basic flow through drills."
Although WA has fewer restrictions than NSW - with groups of 20 allowed - their training has still been quite different.
"It's all been very strange - from only having eight of us there to all the restrictions," the 2016 Rio Olympian said.
"As well as getting our temperature checked prior to training, the main guidelines for us have been getting on all our gear in the car park and only taking our keys and numerous water bottles into the facility - as we can't fill up our bottles while in there.
"There's also been an emphasis on hand sanitising, with us only allowed to touch our sticks - only coaches are permitted to move our training gear.
"But all these are worth it to be training with the girls again - it was tough going from being with them close to 24/7 to not seeing them at all for two and a half months."
Then on Wednesday, the Australian squad was allowed to resume contact training - which Stewart hopes will see the sport return to some normality sooner rather than later.
"Over the next few weeks, we are going to my introducing more contact, as our local Perth club hockey starts on June 27 - with us allowed to start playing for our respective teams in round two," Stewart, who plays for the North Coast Raiders, said.
"These matches will tie in with our increased workload at training, with more competitive drills expected to take place.
"There are also plans to play a couple of practice matches against the under 18s men's squad in a couple of months."
The rest of Stewart's squad, including Mollymook's Kalindi Commerford, have until November to make their way back west before the trials start for the 2021 national squad.
"As much as I would have loved being home and training in NSW, I'm really glad I'm here [Perth] and not stuck out east," Stewart said.
"With next year being such a big season for us, I'm really going to make the most of the next couple of months and use the extra training to my advantage, to hopefully have my best year to date on the field."