Championship kicks off

THE Bendigo Amateur Soccer League has a new look about it heading into Sunday's start to the championship season.

Swan Hill,  Moama and Castlemaine will field limited teams in 2014.

The competition also has a new look about it with the introduction of a finals series.

Strathdale will be aiming for back-to-back titles in division one. The Blues also won the youth and women's titles last year.

Having retained league best and fairest Nick Watson, the side has every opportunity to make it two in a row, although coach Stuart Gough was coy about his side’s chances.

“To be honest, we’re not shaping up as well this year as we did last year. We’ve got a few players a little underdone heading into the first week which isn’t ideal, and we’ve also lost a couple of key players in Mitch Anderson and Xavier Clayton”.

The Blues women’s team won with the last kick of the season in 2013, and will be looking for similar success.

Colts United shape as one of Strathdale’s biggest rivals.

The return of past league best and fairest winner Dylan Callaway from injury bolsters the Strathfieldsaye-based squad.

United has recruited Harley Richardson from Moama.

Zac Kinsman is with FC Bendigo's squad in NPL, while Cal Gibson (illness) and Jake McDonald (overseas) will not play.

The Colts women's side won the Knockout Cup last season and is likely to be a strong challenger in the championship race.

Spring Gully was third in last year's division one and women's championships and contested the Knockout Cup finals.

The women’s team won the Knockout Cup final this pre-season.

Expect Jade De Marchi to be a key player for a strong Gully side this season.

After winning just two games last year, Golden City took out the BASL Knockout Cup in pre-season and shape as one of the league’s big improvers.

Coach Wayne Robertson said the team was excited about this year's prospects.

“We’ve had a good pre-season , which is  positive. This year we look like having a lot of strong players across the side, without too many stars. We’re really looking forward to the start of the season."

Jesse Leonard-Shannon and Englishman Chris Hayden are key players for the youthful City side.

Goodwill Basha, 16, scored a goal in the Knockout Cup final.

City was fifth in the women's championship last season.

Perennial contenders Eaglehawk will be thereabouts again.

The loss of classy duo Keegan Smyth and Mark McGregor is a major blow for the Hawks, who were runners-up in 2013 after consecutive championships.

Coach Matt Schepers believes his side will be strong, despite the injuries:

“Obviously the injuries haven’t been great for us. We might be a bit hit and miss early, but I’m sure we’ll pick up during the year and then be good come finals time”.

The Borough’s woman’s side will be aiming for improvement in 2014 after slipping in recent years from second in 2011 to third in 2012, and seventh last year.

Epsom will be aiming to atone for last year’s disappointing fifth place.

The Scorpions have lost midfielder Ashley Patterson, but look to have a strong squad.

Epsom's women’s team will be relying on the likes of Jacinta Steel to continue the progress made last season, when they won six games after a winless 2012.

Club by Club, division one:

Colts United

Last year: 4th.

Key player: Dylan Callaway.

One to watch: Harley Richardson.

Coach: Nathan Claridge.

Colts look to be one of the best placed to challenge Strathdale.

Prediction: 2nd.

Eaglehawk

Last year: 2nd.

Key player: Chris Hopley. 

One to watch: Dan Kelly.

Coach: Matt Schepers.

Perennial contenders Eaglehawk finished runners-up last season and will be thereabouts again in 2014.

Prediction: 3rd.

Epsom

Last year: 5th.

Key player: Adrian Stockwell.

One to watch: Adam Crawley.

Coach: Paul McClounan.

Epsom has had a lot of changes in the off-season, and  been one of the hardest clubs hit by the introduction of FC Bendigo. Could be the surprise packet in 2014.

Prediction: 6th.

Golden City

Last year: 7th.

Key player: Jesse Leonard-Shannon.

One to watch: Goodwill Basha.

Coach: Wayne Robertson.

After taking out the Knockout Cup in pre-season, expect the youthful City to improve on the two games it won last year.

Prediction: 4th.

Spring Gully

Last year: 3rd.

Key player: Joel Bish.

One to watch: Alex Rothmeier.

Coach: Matt Ford.

Gully will find it hard to replace some of its key players, not least Josh Naunton, who is lining up for FC Bendigo.

Prediction: 5th.

Strathdale

Last year: Champions (1st).

Key player: Nick Watson.

One to watch: Ben Drechsler.

Coach: Stuart Gough.

The Blues are coming off an all-conquering season and will be the team to beat.

Prediction: 1st.

Round one draw:

Saturday - Div. 1: Strathdale v Golden City, 3pm at Beischer Park. Colts United v Epsom, 6.30pm at Strathfieldsaye. Div. 2: Strathdale v Golden City, 1pm at Beischer Park.. Colts United v Epsom, 4.30pm at Strathfieldsaye. Women's: Strathdale v Golden City, 11am at Beischer Park. Colts United v Epsom, 2.30pm at Strathfieldsaye. Youth: Strathdale v Golden City, 10.30am at Beischer Park.

Sunday - Div. 1: Eaglehawk v Spring Gully, 3pm at Truscott Reserve. Div. 2: Moama v Swan Hill, 1pm at Moama. Eaglehawk v Spring Gully, 1pm at Truscott Reserve. Women: Eaglehawk v Spring Gully, 11am at Truscott Reserve. Youth: Eaglehawk v Spring Gully, 9.30am at Truscott Reserve. Moama v Swan Hill, 11am at Moama. Epsom bye. 

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