It has, admits Emily Nicholl, been a long, hard winter.

As captain of Scotland’s only professional netball team, Strathclyde Sirens, Nicholl has been immersed in the hours upon hours of training she and her teammates have endured to ensure they’re ready for the new Netball Superleague season.

 There was, admits Nicholl, times when the conclusion of their pre-season training seemed like it’d never arrive.

But finally, the reason why they spent quite so many hours pushing themselves to the limit is here.

Today, the new Superleague season begins, and Nicholl isn’t shy about her ambitions for her side.

“I always say the first game is where everything makes sense. It’s my natural environment and so it always feels so good to be back out there playing competitive netball,” Nicholl says of Sirens’ league opener, against Team Bath in Nottingham.

“It’s a long, hard winter running up and down a quiet hall so I love being back out there in the atmosphere of the games.

“This season, I want us to achieve the best result Sirens have ever had as a franchise. I want this group to be the best group Sirens have ever had.”

To achieve such a result, Sirens would have to make the Superleague play-offs this season. Their best-ever result to date was a fifth-place finish in 2020, with Nicholl and her teammates ending last season in eighth place.

Nicholls’ optimism appears not to be unfounded.

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Sirens have made significant changes to their squad this season, with the majority of the teamsheet new faces.

Most notable of the new signings are South African internationalist Sammy Ngubane and former junior England internationalist, Hannah Williams and Millie Sanders. And while Nicholl admits so many changes within the squad does present challenges, it also brings an excitement and a freshness that’s necessary in a league that’s ever-improving.

“It is scary when you bring so many new people in but I had trust that the people who came in would be a good fit and that’s been proven right,” says 29-year-old Nicholl, who combines her sporting career with her profession as a lawyer. 

“Everyone’s attitude is spot-on and the players have come together so well. 

“There’ll be a lot of learning for us because we have a lot of players who haven’t played Superleague before so we have to hit the ground running.

“It’s about using the energy the young ones will bring and also using the experience of us older ones.”

A development about the future of the Superleague has added an extra dimension to this season for all the teams, but particularly those who have finished in the bottom half in recent years.

A Superleague 2.0 has been touted, with the most significant change being the possibility that the league would be cut from ten teams to only eight.

While Nicholl refuses to let future developments dominate her thoughts, she admits she’s aware of the threat to two teams’ futures and acknowledges she will have a role to ensure the squad is not distracted by the ramifications of Superleague 2.0.

Nicholl returns as the team’s co-captain alongside Hannah Williams but, in contrast to last year, this season the pair were voted into their positions by their squadmates.

In recent weeks, Nicholl’s entire focus has been on ensuring her squad is prepared for the task in hand, which is winning games in what is, the goal defence believes, will be the highest-quality season of netball the Superleague has ever seen.

“I never think about what I should do because I’m captain, I just think about what I should do as Emily,” she says. 

“But it’s so nice to know I have the respect of the players.

“This winter has been our toughest pre-season in terms of physical prep. We’ve really pushed ourselves because we wanted to build our mental resilience so that when the season starts, we’re really ready. 

“The intensity of the Superleague now is so extreme so you have to be so prepared going into the season. It’s such a huge mental challenge so by consistently pushing ourselves to the limit in training, it means we can bring so much more into the season.

“We want to take that next step up in level and we’re hoping we’re ready to do that.”