A year can be a long time in netball.

Twelve months ago, Hawks Netball’s Victorian Netball League Championship division team emerged from one of the most challenging periods in the club’s recent history, after a number of its youngest and most promising stars departed at the end of the 2016 season.

With little option but to rebuild, the club and new Championship coach Jacqui Hansen looked both inward to its Division 1 ranks to fill those voids, as well as externally to attract some key talent at either end of the court.

Seven wins from 18 games was therefore a solid return for a team learning to gel, as well as for a group of players trying to find their feet at Victoria’s most elite level of netball. A number of long-term injuries to key players throughout the season made the assignment even more challenging.

DIVISION 1 PREVIEW: Hawks ready to take next step

So it speaks volumes about the culture shift at the club that in 2018 the team enters the VNL season with all bar two of its 2017 team pulling on the Hawks dress again.

Add veteran defender Beth Chiuchiarelli and young former Hawks midcourter Kaela Hughes, who returns to the club after a year at Sovereigns, into the mix and Hansen says the team hasn’t put a limit on its expectations for the VNL season, which starts on Sunday.

“We were probably ahead of where we thought we’d be at the end of last season, and we’ve continued to build on that momentum throughout pre-season,” Hansen says.

The major announcement of Hawthorn Football Club signing on as the club’s naming rights sponsor earlier this year has only boosted the buzz around the Hawks’ top team.

Hansen says they’ll be out to make an impact and push towards the club’s first Championship finals appearance since 2010.

19/U PREVIEW: Big year beckons for young Hawks

“Our pre-season has been extremely positive in terms of both the team’s performance and also the vibe around the group. The girls’ support for each other is obvious, and it’s one of those intangible elements that’s often difference between good teams and great teams.”

Former Vixens goaler Kim Commane remains the team’s lynchpin in the attack end, with club captain Nat Billings and Tayla Shannon also enjoying extremely strong pre-seasons and providing plenty of strong goaling options and combinations.

Hughes, the evergreen Lil O’Sullivan, Gippsland Storm product Kelsey Buxton, the lightning quick Tayla Kearns and Monique Tarrant – with a full pre-season under her belt after returning from an ACL injury last year – make up the midcourt unit.

In defence, Shannon Rennison is back for a second season at Hawks, along with long-time Hawks representative Clare Pettyfor and Chiuchiarelli rounding out a defence end that will be among the most experienced in the league.

Billings says the sky is the limit for the team, which enjoyed strong wins across both weeks of pre-season competition.

“All through pre-season we’ve been really open as a team across all areas, on and off court, so I think that’s just going to continue to strengthen us as a group and we’re ready to show everyone what we’ve been working on for the last five months.”

“Pre-season has gone really well from the team perspective, everyone’s feeling confident we can get the job done. We’ve worked hard and now we’re just keen to hit the court on Sunday against Waves.”

Hawks Netball’s 2018 season kicks off against Peninsula Waves this Sunday, April 29 at the State Netball Hockey Centre in Parkville.

19/U – 12.30pm
Division 1 – 1.50pm

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