If the National League squad wanted a peek into what challenges lay ahead, they certainly got it on Sunday in Round 1 of the National Cup.
Against a very experienced and very organised Lincoln Cannons, Athena struggled to get into the match until the the third set as they lost 3-0, With such little time together to knit the existing regional league squad and the new recruits together, this was always going to be a tough match but there were some good signs for the future.
Last year's Division 3C champions certainly started strongly as the Athena girls seemed a little over-awed by the occasion. Athena began with Sarah setting, Alysia opposite, Kristy and Kamila through the middle, Petra and new player Diana as outside hitters and Algi as libero. Unfortunately, they looked leaden-footed in service receive, the serving was off-key and the hitting was not decisive enough to breach Lincoln's defence and Lincoln ran out 25-13 winners. Coach Gordon freshened things up for the second set by bringing Paulina on for Sarah and Monika on for Alysia but Lincoln quickly re-asserted their authority to spring into a 10-2 lead. In the first set, Athena managed to settle down but they couldn't find a good rhythm in the second as Lincoln continually found holes in their defence.
For the final set, Kristy moved to outside in place of Diana and Tereza came into the middle. With Kristy out wide, the team looked a lot more structured, Kristy's commanding voice making a difference to the defence and her hitting creating a lot of problems for Lincoln. The set was neck and neck with neither team getting more than a point advantage until Lincoln just edged it 25-21, winning the match 3-0.
Despite the scoreline, there were some great signs for Athena, The new players showed well, including Tereza creating some fabulous blocks on her debut, Paulina looking assured as a setter and Diana looked very useful as an outside hitter. Once they bed in to the team and learn how each other works, it should be a very exciting team.
Huge thanks to Sports Way Management for our fabulous kit. It is a beautiful design, they were really helpful and turned the order round in double quick time.
Athena's new NVL squad looked good in their pre-season friendly against Ashfield Vipers. Using a mixture of players from last year's title winning regional league squad and new additions, coach Gordon MacDonald was able to try out a number of different permutations and, considering that the squad have not yet had a training session together, they pulled out an excellent performance to win 4 out the five sets played.
New setter Paulina put in a very good performance, Petra was outstanding, new hitter Diane showed great promise and, across the whole squad, there were some really pleasing elements. after the match, Gordon said "Although there are a few things to work on, the basic core of what we want worked well".
Many thanks to Ashfield for coming down to play and we look forward to seeing them again in the league.