Elite: Bendigo Spirit star Tessa Lavey is hoping to bring home a medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Photo: TRACEY NEARMY/ AAP IMAGE

Coach proud of local Olympians

July 29, 2021 BY

THE Australian Opals started their Olympic campaign on Tuesday, with three squad members from Bendigo teams striving for ultimate glory.

Tessa Lavey and Leilani Mitchell play for the Bendigo Spirit in the WNBL while veteran Tess Madgen plays for the Bendigo Braves in the NBL1.

One man who knows both Tessa Lavey and Tess Madgen’s journeys very well is lead assistant coach of the Spirit and coach of the Braves Mark Alabakov.

Alabakov said both Lavey and Madgen have worked incredibly hard through the highs and lows of their career to represent their country.

“Both are very deserved, both are tremendous role models on and off the floor for athletes of any age but the inspiration that they can give to specifically Bendigo junior athletics coming through that you don’t have to be a metropolitan athlete to be able to make it,” he said.

“Your career can take a non-linear path and you can still achieve all of your life dreams if you’re resilient and persistent.

“It’s a fantastic message and they’re really lighthouses that shine that light onto our community.”

Lavey made her Olympic debut in Rio in 2016, when the Opals finished fifth, and Alabakov said the work she has put in to make it to Tokyo is inspirational.

“She was always skilled and quick, but she knew after one Olympics in order to level up she needed to start devoting time then and there. She devoted herself to a running program to get her fitness up to heights it hadn’t reached before,” he said.

During the first COVID-19 lockdown, Lavey had an exemption as an aspiring Olympic athlete and spent 90 minutes a day for five and a half months training with Alabakov at Bendigo Stadium.

“The culmination of that was her putting in a resoundingly improved performance in the WNBL hub in November and December where she was statistically the best performing guard in the whole competition,” Alabakov said.

Alabakov said he was blown away by Tess Madgen’s work ethic when she joined the Bendigo Braves.

“When Tess signed on with the Braves in her words she said it would give her the best opportunity to stay in shape and touch and help her be at her peak to be able to make that Olympic team,” he said.

“She has this almost wolverine-like fierceness to the way she competes but does so with a humility especially around her teammates, so it’s never at the detriment of anybody or any circumstance.

“We’ll go in and do individual training sessions and she’ll stay and shoot for half-an-hour or an hour after that… she just dedicated herself full time to be able to pursue this career goal.”

Alabakov said that with Lavey and Mitchell, who signed for the Spirit in April, playing in the WNBL, and Tess Madgen playing in the NBL1, Bendigo basketball players of any age have a “visual representation” of how to make it to the top.

“Twelve months of a year there’s an opportunity to see world-class talent in our city right there in front of us,” he said.

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