BENDIGO will host an opening round of Victorian Netball League matches next month, showcasing the talents of local champions who have stepped up to the elite competition.
Seven players who cut their teeth in the Bendigo Football Netball League will line up for VU Western Lightning, which takes on UB Ballarat Pride in their first home game for 2013.
The March 2 fixture features three matches across the Championship, division one and 19-and-under competitions, as well as a curtain-raiser between the Lightning Bolts development squad and a team of Bendigo-based rising stars from the Northern Zone Netball Academy.
Among the players who will be in action in division one is team captain Brianna Dalrymple-Monro, the 2011 BFNL best and fairest and a Sandhurst mid-court star, former Dragons’ sharpshooter Claire Gibbs, and veteran Kangaroo Flat goaler Alicia McGlashan.
They will be joined by Gisborne mid-courter and former junior state player Meg Grbac and teenager Abby Gilmore, who was voted Eaglehawk’s best A-grade player last year.
The 19-and-under team includes Gisborne defender Madeline Stewart and Kangaroo Flat’s Monica Wellington, who finished third in the BFNL 17-and-under best and fairest in 2012.
Rounding out the local contingent is 16-year-old Bonnie Barkmeyer, who has been selected as a member of the inaugural Lightning Bolts development squad this year. She will line up against some of her fellow zone academy members in the curtain-raiser.
Lightning division one coach and Bendigo netball identity Melissa Ryan said the event was a chance to see some of the most promising players to come out of the BFNL in recent years.
“The focus is to promote the girls from this region who have taken the next step and to help celebrate their achievements,” Ryan said.
“It’s also to show that we are here to help with their netball pathway.”
She said Lightning had requested Pride to be its opponent for the home game in Bendigo because Ballarat was another regional area close by and with a similar demographic.
A return match will be played in Ballarat later in the season.
“Down the track, we would love to have it as an annual game back home. We have semi adopted Bendigo because so many of our personnel come from here.”
This is the second time VU Western Lightning has played VNL games in Bendigo.
Last year, it took on the Southern Saints as part of the Central Victorian Netball Festival, before its Championship side went on to finish the year as runners-up in the elite league.
Head coach Matt Hills urged central Victorian netball fans to get behind Lightning this time as well, and perhaps witness a future Australian Diamond in action.
“Bendigo and the Northern Zone region have a proud history of developing players that have gone on to represent Australia and play in the ANZ Championship competition.
“Players such as Sharelle McMahon, Rebecca Bulley and Caitlin Thwaites are proof that Bendigo and its outlying areas are great breeding grounds for producing talented netballers.”
Locally based Lightning players are looking forward to their involvement.
“Playing in my home town brings greater awareness to the young local talent of what they can achieve, showing it’s attainable,” Alicia McGlashan said.
“Also, I love a home game crowd – the support makes you feel like a celebrity.”
VU Western Lightning takes on UB Ballarat Pride at the Bendigo Stadium on Saturday, March 2, with play to start at 3pm.
The club will run a super clinic for young players and coaches the following day.
For full details about the games and clinic, along with local player profiles, see Women in Sport in tomorrow’s Bendigo Advertiser.