After four years of close calls and near misses, Monash University Storm’s Division 1 team insists it’s ready to turn things around.
An inconsistent 2016 campaign saw Monash finish sixth, with seven wins and a draw from 18 games, despite taking down eventual premiers City West Falcons during the regular season and stringing together some impressive performances along the way.
And the previous three years saw fifth-place finishes in both 2015 and 2014, and a finals appearance in 2013, only for the second-placed Storm to be bundled out in straight sets.
But new Division 1 coach AJ Ballantyne says he and the rest of the Monash coaching staff are confident they’ve found the right mix of players to lift the club back into Division 1 finals this season.
Experienced defender and club captain Maddy Byrne is among the 2016 Monash players returning for 2017, as well as goaling duo Grace Thomas and Monique Lenehan-Moustafa, midcourter and member of Monash’s 2014 19/U premiership-winning side Melissa Perez, and defender Ebony Roberts.
They are joined by centre court trio Kate Fletcher, Olivia Gigli and Mia Fallon, who have crossed from Ariels, goalers Ruth Smith and Bridgette Furphy, who both return to the VNL court after a year off, and defender Chloe Sinclair, who will have her first taste of VNL action.
Ballantyne says that although much of the squad is new to Monash, the team’s chemistry has been evident from day one of preseason and the players’ performances during post-Christmas training have improved by the week.
“Many of the girls have played together in previous teams or other competitions, so they know each other quite well and it’s just a matter of nailing down those combinations,” he says.
“We’ve had three practice matches so far, two of which were against top-four teams from last year, and the results have been really encouraging.”
Ballantyne says the focus across all three Monash teams has been a “team first” ethos, which the Division 1 players have been quick to embrace.
“Half the team has figured in a VNL grand final at some point in their netball careers, so we know the talent’s there, but we’ve picked a team that’s based as much on what the girls bring to the group off the court, as what we know they can do on it,” Ballantyne says.
“We know the girls have the talent to be right there challenging for finals at season’s end, and that’s our expectation. They’re just itching to get started.”
Monash University Storm’s VNL campaign kicks off on Wednesday, April 26 against Peninsula Waves at the State Netball and Hockey Centre.