STRATHFIELDSAYE might have fallen short of a first-up win against Eaglehawk in BFNL A-grade netball, but new coach Ash Barbetti saw plenty of positive signs for the season ahead on Saturday.
The Storm lost 44-50, but not before matching it for large chunks of the game with the Hawks, who are considered a genuine top three contender in 2019, as they chase a third-straight finals berth under joint coaches Mali Roberts and Allira Holmes.
It was an encouraging start to life as an A-grade coach for Barbetti, who has replaced Kathryn Gilmore and Amy Davies at the helm this season.
As the Storm prepares for BFNL netball's toughest test, against reigning premier Sandhurst on Good Friday, the new Storm leader had only encouraging words for her players.
"I was very pleased with the effort of all the girls on Saturday," Barbetti said.
"We are a new looking line-up so to come together first game and play the game we did I am very proud of them.
"We matched Eaglehawk in the first three quarters with some really great passages of play.
"Unfortunately, we weren't able to keep up with Eaglehawk in the last quarter....their experience playing together was evident."
With a few unavailabilities, former dual Pyramid Hill premiership player Zoe Kennedy stepped into the goal circle and combined well with Caity Hamilton.
There were plenty of positives elsewhere for the Storm.
"Abbey Hayes played a great game developing her confidence in her drive and in her voice within the team," Barbetti said.
"The girls have come away with confidence and a really positive attitude for the rest of the season."
We are a new looking line-up so to come together first game and play the game we did I am very proud of them.- Ash Barbetti
The road does not get any easier for Strathfieldsaye, which meets a Dragons team, which kick-started its premiership defence with a tough win over Kangaroo Flat, and welcomed back star two-time league best and fairest Heather Oliver.
"Looking forward, we have a tough start to the season, playing the top three sides from last year in our first four rounds," Barbetti said.
"The girls see this as a great challenge and are embracing the opportunity to see where we stand against the top sides."
A reassuring day for the Storm included a stirring win for their A-reserve team, coached by club newcomer Kennedy.
Strathfieldsaye trailed by as many as 13 goals, but clawed its way back to win by three goals, 55-52.
In other BFNL games this Easter weekend, Eaglehawk will look to advance to 2-0 against South Bendigo, which will be looking to bounce back from a loss to Maryborough.
Gisborne comes up against a rejuvenated Kyneton, which started the season with a big win, while Golden Square hosts Kangaroo Flat with both clubs seeking to avenge opening round losses.
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.