Hawks Netball is set for a blockbuster clash to open its 2024 campaign on Wednesday evening, as it enters a new era of the Victorian Netball League. 

The Hawks will take on Melbourne University Lightning in both the Championship division and the new 23 & Under division, with both promising to exceptionally hard fought contests.

In the Championship division, the Hawks will be looking to launch their season with a win over the Lightning, who snared fourth spot in the final round last year to keep the fifth-placed Hawks out of finals.

While Hawks head coach and Championship coach AJ Ballantyne said Round 1 was always hard to predict, he was buoyed by what he’d seen from the group throughout preseason.

“We’re a very new-look team, with five players who are either new to the club or new to Championship level, but I just couldn’t be more impressed with how the group has come together in such a short space of time,” Ballantyne said.

“I think the most exciting part is the depth and versatility we’ve started to see within the group as the season has approached. Having more options available and more flexibility with our players and the positions they can cover is an area we identified as something we needed to address in the off-season, and I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

“Our midcourt was pretty bare after a few departures at the end of 2023, but Keighley Starrett and Eryn Stocker have slotted in there nicely and they’ve both shown plenty in our practice matches . We’ve got a lot of combinations we can roll through there.”

“And adding Annabelle Gorman in goals and elevating Chloe Duke from Division 1 into our defensive unit gives us a couple more weapons on top of the core group we retained from last year.”

Ballantyne said Lightning’s squad needed little introduction, with big names in all areas of the court, but said Hawks would enter Round 1 with confidence.

“They’ve got two Vixens training partners in their defence end and multiple Victorian Fury players from last year across the court, so they’re a very talented team. We had two really good games against them last season and we match up well on each other, so it’s the perfect test for us in the season opener.”

23 & UNDER

In the newly minted 23 & Under division, the Hawks face a stern test against a Lightning side featuring a number of players from its premiership-winning 19 & Under team.

But with the Hawks having also played finals last year in both 19 & Under and Division 1, coach Monique Lenehan-Moustafa said the team the club assembled from those 2023 outfits has huge scope for success this year.

“I’m really excited about the 23s team that we have for this season. I feel as though we have a lot of depth and I’ve got a lot of confidence that no matter what swaps or changes we make throughout games, the girls can go out there and execute our game plan and what we’ve been working on,” Lenehan-Moustafa said.

“All of the girls are really committed and hardworking and that’s really helped them develop their relationships both and off the court, which has then helped with our connections as a team and ability to trust each other.”

“I know MU are going to be very strong on Wednesday night, especially as they’ve got combinations of girls that have played together before. So it’s really going to come down to us executing our basics and working together as a collective. There are going to be times in the game when we’re challenged and its going to be about what we do as a group and how we stand up.”

Lenehan-Moustafa singled out newly-selected captain Kaila Swindell as someone who was ready to take a big step this year.

“Kaila is a big standout for me. Over her time at Hawks she’s really focused on developing her speed and intensity and resilience on court and that’s been reflected in our preseason games and also in the girls selecting her to lead them this year.”

“We’ve also gotten a lot of strength and depth from Jess Tetley joining us in goals – she’s a really good thinker and playmaker on the court and has integrated really well with Dom Taylor and Hannah Keane.”

“And our defence end was probably our most consistent in terms of performance in both our 19 & Under and Division 1 teams last year, so with Emma Storey, Liv Barnett and Georgie O’Brien joining forces I think we’re going to really challenge some opposition attack ends.”

VNL ROUND 1 – Wednesday, March 6
HAWKS vs MU Lightning
State Netball Centre, Parkville – Court 10
6.45pm – Championship
8.15pm – 23 & Under

***Both games will be live streamed on Netball Victoria’s Facebook page from 6.45pm. Please be advised that parking is expected to be extremely difficult due to a WNBL game also being played at the venue. Patrons are advised to catch public transport or consider watching the game via the live stream.