When Hawks Netball Club’s Division 1 team takes to the court for the first round of the Victorian Netball League on Wednesday night, it will have been 631 days since they last pulled on the blue, brown and gold.

But while some of the personnel may have changed since that semi-final appearance in 2019, the expectations will be similarly lofty for a team that has played finals in both of the last two seasons.

With a wealth of experience across the court but not necessarily together, the team has big scope for growth, according to coach AJ Ballantyne.

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“With players like Clare Pettyfor (defence) and 2018 premiership wing attack Kate Fletcher back in the team, along with Brodie Brunt in defence and both Elle Rice and Caitlyn Alifraco in attack, all of whom have previously played in the Championship division, there’s a very strong mix of players who have the runs on the board at this level,” he said.

“With COVID taking out 2020, many of the girls are actually playing together for the first time, so we’re really pleased with how quickly they’ve come on as a group over the past few months, and we think they’ll get better and better as the season goes on.”

Add in some youthful inclusions in 2020 Victorian 17/U defender Olivia Spence, who has been elevated from the Hawks’ 19/U team, along with Sophie Hennessey, who returns from an ACL injury, veteran goaler Beth Wilson, who also returns from an ACL, club stalwart Monique Lenehan-Moustafa in goals and second-year defender Emily Kay, and it’s not hard to see why the club is buoyant about the team’s chances.

Preseason matchplay performances have been positive, with a strong performance against the Victorian 20/U mens team, and a tight contest against current Division 1 titleholders North East Blaze.

“What we’ve seen in all of our hitouts is a preparedness to really knuckle down and work hard. At their best the girls have been awesome to watch, so now we’re just looking to start putting that out over a full game in Round 1,” Ballantyne said.

Hawks Netball takes on Southern Saints in VNL Round 1 on Wednesday, April 21 at Oakleigh Recreation Centre, with the 19/U division at 7pm, Championship at 8.20pm and Division 1 at 9.40pm.

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