Hawks Netball will play for its first premiership points in eight months on Wednesday evening, when they take on Geelong Cougars in Round 1 of the Victorian Netball League.
After both the 2020 and 2021 seasons were cancelled due to Covid, the players and coaching staff are simply looking forward to having a clean run at the competition.
“Players across all netball clubs have endured a lot over the past couple of years, and none more so than the VNL girls, who have played only 10 games of netball during that entire period,” Hawks Division 1 coach AJ Ballantyne said.
“Everyone is just bursting to get out there and enjoy playing again, without the threat of having the season shut down.”
It promises to be an exciting year for the Hawks, who secured the signature of former West Coast Fever and Melbourne Vixens star Kaylia Stanton in the off-season while also strengthening the overall depth of their Championship squad.
After a number of impressive preseason practice match performances, Hawks Championship coach Jacqui Hansen said the team could be ready to take the next step and push towards finals.
“It’s been quite a while since our Championship team has gone through a preseason without dropping a game, and while it is only preseason, there’s certainly a different buzz around what the group feels like it can achieve this year,” Hansen said.
“Kaylia is obviously an important inclusion, but the Clark twins (defender Kirsty and midcourter Lorna) have added height and athleticism, and returning players like Kelsey Buxton, Enya (Broadley) and Chloe (Sinclair) have been even more consistent.”
The team will also be boosted in the coming weeks by the inclusion of midcourter Jasmine Ferguson, who has been unavailable while starring for North Melbourne’s AFLW side.
But there could be no bigger Round 1 test than an assignment against the powerful Geelong squad, which boasts five Melbourne Vixens Academy members and claimed the VNL title in the last completed season in 2019.
Hansen said the Hawks couldn’t wait to test themselves.
“There’s no denying they’ve got a talented and extremely deep squad, with former Super Netball players like Mel Bragg and Madi Browne, (2019 league MVP) Julia Woolley and a heap of others, but we think we stack up well and it’s a real opportunity for us to see where we’re at and set the tone for our season.”
An equally interesting clash awaits in Division 1, where two teams with finals aspirations will get an early look at how their squads have shaped up.
With the Hawks adding depth in both the midcourt and defence in the off-season, as well as new goaling options, Ballantyne said he had been impressed with how well the team had gelled since resuming training in December.
“Last year we probably just lacked that consistency, as well as the depth to be able to turn to other options when things weren’t working. But already this year I’ve seen a number of players really elevate their games and show us things we haven’t seen from them before,” he said.
“It’s really exciting to have (goaler) Hannah Keane and (midcourter) Abi Inglis take the step up from 19/Under after two or three seasons. They’ve been standouts for our under-age team and deserve their opportunity, and have looked right at home during our pre-season games.”
“We’ve also welcomed Ash Newham (midcourt) to the club and back onto a VNL court after a couple of years away from the game, and other new Hawks like Dom Taylor (goals) and Sasha Witts (defence) have impressed us with what they’ve brought to the team.”
Meanwhile, the Hawks 19/Under team could have a point to prove after being denied the opportunity to contest finals last year.
Sitting atop the 19/Under ladder for most of the 2021 season, the team was poised to play finals for the first time in a number of years, before Covid struck again.
But with a strong nucleus of that squad returning, including state representatives Keeley Burgmann, Dee Dee Lambert and Eliza Molino, midcourter Simona Di Filippo, defender Lucy McKellar, midcourter Kaila Swindell and with Olivia Barnett back on court after rupturing her Achilles during last year’s preseason, the team has both experience and depth.
Add in three talented VNL debutants in midcourter Sienna Green, defender Georgie O’Brien and goaler Teagan Harrison, and the lineup looks formidable.
New 19/Under coach Sophie O’Shea said she was looking forward to the girls showing the competition what they can do.
“It’s a really talented group of athletes and they’ve worked very hard throughout preseason and are really coming together as a group,” she said.
“I’m super excited for the girls to get on court – some for their first VNL experience – and to really show us what they’re capable of.”
The Hawks begin their VNL campaign against Geelong Cougars on Court 11 at the State Netball Centre from 7pm on Wednesday, March 16.
VNL ROUND 1
HAWKS VS GEELONG
7pm – 19/Under
8.20pm – Championship
9.40pm – Division 1