At a glance:
- Nicola Xenos is on track to make her return from an ACL injury at the start of 2022.
- The 20-year-old suffered her season-ending injury just two days before the start of the 2021 season.
- Xenos' last senior appearance came in Round 6, 2020 against Richmond.
Two days before the start of round one of the 2021 NAB AFLW season, Nicola Xenos ruptured her ACL in St Kilda's final pre-season session.
It was a bitter blow for the sparky Saint, who had flown through her second pre-season and was eager to show her wares up forward and pushing into the midfield.
Ten months on, she's tracking well and is on target to make her return at the start of 2022.
"It's been a long journey, to say the least, but now we're coming into pre-season and those weeks leading up to pre-season (voluntary sessions), being around the girls has made things go a lot more quickly," Xenos told womens.afl.
"I'm now slowly integrating into our training sessions, doing more and more each week. I'm building up my confidence to be back where I was before.
"To do it two days out from round one was a bit of a kick in the face, but stuff like this happens to a lot of people, and it's how they get back up from it and what they learn from it. I've learnt a lot from the journey and about myself."
Having won three of their nine games last season, the Saints were one of four clubs to change coaches, parting ways with Peta Searle and appointing former player Nick Dal Santo.
The club also has brought in new assistant coaches in Lachie Harris and Alex Woodward, with Paddy Hill now looking after game strategy and management.
Tessie McManus is the new head of women's footy after Jamie Cox took up a role in cricket in England.
"Coming into my third season, a lot has changed for me (as well as) the club. Expectations and standards by which the group hold ourselves accountable have also changed, which is great," Xenos said.
"Nick Dal Santo's been a great asset to our group, and I think a fresh start was what we needed. A different perspective as well, in comparison to our previous coach. He's fitted in really well and all the girls love him so far, so we're really excited to see what he brings.
"Nick's really personable, everyone gets along with him really well. But the way he speaks to us, the way he articulates games and game situations and what he wants us to do out on the track, he's very encouraging with what he says.
"I'm hoping it'll be a different St Kilda. A lot's changed from the first to the second (season), and I think even more will change from last season to this season. I think what we can see is a relentless St Kilda. It's what we're priding ourselves on moving into this year, so I'm hoping we can be a team to beat."