Anna Garnett in action for Celtic last year. PHOTO/FILE
For the first time in recent memory, Harcourts will not enter the Netball Wairarapa premier one competition with the trophy stashed away in their cabinet.
That honour falls to Celtic this season after they beat Harcourts 38-37 in last year’s decider.
This year’s premier one competition got under way on Friday night, and Celtic captain Rennie Hemara said it may take a while for teams to hit full stride.
“We haven’t had much time to prepare – with everyone’s busy lives we’ve been trying to find a way that suits all of us.
“We’ve had a couple of trainings and our coach has been to a couple of the coaching sessions from Netball Wairarapa.”
Celtic have returned with a similar squad to the one that did the job last year, with the addition of a new player and a couple of returning players from previous seasons.
Throughout the early rounds it would be a case of taking it one week at a time.
“With all the excitement around the new facility and everyone playing, we haven’t been able to prepare ourselves as well as what we normally would,” Hemara said.
“We’ve just been training without knowing exactly when we would play.”
She said the defending champions tag would bring a host of new pressures for the Celtic squad and adapting to that would be crucial to maintaining their success.
“I would like to say it’s a clean slate, but I do feel like we have a little bit more pressure on us after winning last year.
“Because Harcourts have won for so long, we do have some pressure to uphold and perform this year.
“Over the years, even in round-robin play, we had never beaten them . . . that was the first time we had ever won against them and to do it in the final was great.”
Two teams looking to knock Celtic and Harcourts off their perch will be the senior A teams from St Matthew’s Collegiate and Wairarapa College.
Both teams can call on plenty of youth and enthusiasm, but playing against their older, wily opponents will be a big part of the challenge.
St Matthew’s coach Rachel Shearing said the team had been training together for the last five weeks.
“We’ve got a good core of players from last year and there are some new youngsters who are very talented.
“We have been doing some goal setting – we’ve set goals for what the girls want to achieve, and some basic results-based goals in terms of commitment as well.”
The new facility at the Colombo Rd courts is not completely finished, but Shearing said her team was excited to experience the new set-up.
“It’s fantastic – the start of our season was held up a little bit but we’ve been down there with the other grades to have a look, and it looks pretty amazing.
“It’s really exciting for netball in Wairarapa.”
St Matthew’s will get first crack at Harcourts when they begin their campaign at Chanel College tonight, and that was a challenge they were looking forward to.
“We’re preparing ourselves to give it our best,” Shearing said.
“We have to face them at some stage and it will give a good indication of where we’re at and what we need to improve on.”
Waicol assistant coach Melissa Cullen said they only had three players returning from last year’s senior A team.
“We have a young, vibrant team coming through.
“Our pre-season has been based on connecting with each other, and the girls getting prepared for the higher intensity level of premier one.”
Many of the squad have experience playing in Wairarapa representative teams, and were excited to test themselves in Wairarapa’s top grade.
They will also get to test themselves in a competition with Wellington secondary schools.
“At the end of the season they head away to the lower North Island competition as well,” Cullen said.
“Last year at that event they were promoted to A-grade, and this year we want to consolidate and stay in that grade.”
She said it was hoped playing in multiple competitions would allow for faster development as a team.
“High intensity games are important for these young girls, for quick growth in a short amount of time.”
Other teams in the premier one grade are Carterton New World Red and Gladstone Helloworld Gold.
Premier one matches
Tonight at Chanel College: Harcourts v St Matthew’s at 6pm; Waicol v Carterton at 7.30pm.
Tomorrow at Colombo Rd courts: Celtic v Gladstone at 1pm