AS recently as 2016, Emily Nicholl was playing university netball but just two years later, she is an integral member of UWS Sirens and is playing in the UK-wide Netball Superleague, which is generally acknowledged as one of the best leagues in the world.

The 23 year-old from Biggar was part of Sirens’ squad last year, which was their maiden season and with Sirens in the midst of their pre-season training for the 2018 season, which kicks-off next month, and Nicholl is feeling in confident mood that they can improve on their sixth-place finish last season.

“Last year, we felt in our hearts that we could have been top four but we didn’t quite manage to get there,” she said. “But we absolutely have confidence that we can do really well this year – we have the players and we have the belief so we just need to go on court and deliver. Last season, some early losses killed us and I think that a lot of that was down to the fact that a lot of us were newbies to the Superleague. But this year, that’s all different and so we’re really excited to see how we can do – and we’re feeling confident.”

What is especially exciting for Nicholl is the calibre of player that UWS Sirens have signed ahead of their second season.

In particular, the signing of experienced England internationalist Sara Bayman has thrilled Nicholl and the defender admits that she cannot quite believe that she is teammates with a player who she has idolised for the past decade.

“For someone like Sara Bayman to have joined the team is so exciting – I’ve watched her on telly for the last ten years and she’s an idol of mine so to be playing alongside her is pretty amazing,” she said.

“I’m still relatively new to the whole netball scene so I’m just loving being a part of this set up – I’m loving the matches but I’m also loving the training side of things too. And signing Sara Bayman shows the ambition of the team – while finishing in sixth spot last year was quite good, we’re aiming to really improve on that this season and we’re going for first spot. But what’s so great about this team is that we’re signing people who are not only good players but also good people. Signings like Sara prove that – there’s such a good atmosphere in training and it’s a pleasure to be a part of it. There’s a feeling amongst us that as long as we have each other’s back then we’re going to be unstoppable.”

The experience of playing in the Superleague with Sirens has the knock-on effect of improving the Scottish national team. 2018 is a vital year with the Commonwealth Games kicking-off in three months time but before that, Scotland will make an assault on the World Cup qualifiers, which are being held in Perth in a couple of weeks time.

Having put in one of their best international performances in years at Netball Europe last October, Nicholl could not be feeling more optimistic about the coming months. “There’s so much confidence in Scottish netball just now – and Sirens have even more Scottish players involved this year which will obviously have a big effect on the national team,” she said.

“That’s so important because this year is huge for us. Previously, we’d been playing at a lower level so when we stepped up to international level, it was a real shock to the system for us all and so it would take us quite a while to get up to speed and you just can’t afford that when you’re playing the top teams.

“Whereas now, we’re not having any of those rabbit in the headlight moments at that start of matches. We’re fitter than ever, stronger than ever and we’re able to take the hits which is so important because netball is so physical nowadays.”

Nicholl admits that when she reflects on how far she has come and cannot quite believe the transformation. Having graduated from Edinburgh University withy a law degree last year, she has put her traineeship on hold for a year in order to concentrate fully on her sport. But she still has her moments when she cannot quite believe the company she is keeping. “I played netball at school and to be honest, I thought that was as far as I would go,” she said.

“I continued playing at university but it wasn’t until my fourth year at uni that I broke into the Scottish set-up. So it’s all been a complete whirlwind – one minute I was playing uni netball and the next I was playing in the Superleague and representing Scotland which is something that I never in my wildest dreams imagined would happen. I still get star-struck by the big names though. Carla Borrego, a Jamaican internationalist, was at Sirens last year and I was so excited to be a teammate of hers – I’m such a netball geek and love being alongside these kind of players. All the other girls laugh at me but that helps me push myself to my absolute limit and it’s the same with all the other girls – we know how hard we need to work to be successful.