WHEN Kelsey Willott walks out onto the turf for Bathurst City in their 2020 season opener, she will have every right to feel a little nervous given it has been 694 days between women's Premier League Hockey appearances.
Willott last played for City in their 2018 minor semi-final thriller against Orange CYMS, a game the Bathurst outfit lost 4-3 in golden goal extra-time.
She sat 2019 out as she was pregnant and had been working towards her comeback earlier this year when the coronavirus outbreak saw the women's Premier League Hockey put on hold.
So it's no surprise to hear Willott say "It's so long ago that I last played and this year waiting feels like it's gone forever" as she thinks about City's July 18 season opener against Bathurst rivals Souths.
It's a match the noted goal-scorer and former Australian Country representative knows she will have to be switched on for as well given there are only seven games before the final series commences.
"A shorter season will be very different, none of us have every done anything like this before, so it's exciting," she said.
"It's important that we start well from the get-go because we don't have much time this season to get used to each other and how we all play, adjust to the dynamics.
"We've got to figure it out quickly because it's such a short season. It is a bit scary because if you don't click together straight away, you might not make it to the finals."
The pressure to perform, cement a top four spot and advance to the finals is not the only one Willott and her team-mates face.
There is also the expectation that comes with wearing a Bathurst City shirt. Since their inaugural season in 2007, they have only once missed out on the finals - that was last year.
On top of that Willott knows that as one of the more experienced members of the squad, City's emerging talents will look to her for leadership and inspiration.
"I still feel that pressure, I think we [City] feel that every year and I think that's because since we've been in the comp we have been quite strong," she said.
"So yes, I think there's that added bit of pressure we put on ourselves to succeed or do well. We always aim for the finals and once we make it then we take it week by week and go from there.
"I think being one of the older girls in the team as well there's that pressure because we've been there for such a long time, we've played in finals and been there for our grand final wins and want to try and continue that on."
But Willott will not be the only player with experience in City's line-up. Star midfielder Brooke McFadden, who was a member of the 2017 title-winning outfit, returns this season while there is also the likes of Kelly Baker, Bec Bosianek, Maddy Tattersall, Kirsten Howard and Sarah McCusker in the squad.
"There's still that core group of girls that have been there for a long time, but I think I am one of the more senior players now definitely, there are a lot of younger players there now which is good," Willott said.
"We've picked up another couple of girls from some other sides as well which is great, so we are looking quite strong. But in saying that, we haven't seen any of the other sides, they could be looking just as strong."