THE BFNL has underlined its standing as a Victorian netball powerhouse with a 55-40 win over AFL Victoria Community Championships newcomer Outer East at the QEO on Saturday.
Coach Jayden Cowling's side stamped its dominance early with a 12-6 opening term, and after withstanding a spirited challenge from the visitors in the second term, took control to win a high-calibre contest by 15 goals.
Missing one of its stars in Sandhurst's Heather Oliver (injury), Bendigo had match-winners all over the court and showed it would be a force to be reckoned with at the forthcoming Netball Victoria Association Championships in June.
Team captain Madeline Stewart won the nod as the BFNL's best with another standout effort at goal defence, ahead of a healthy crop of contenders.
Her Gisborne team-mate Clare Vearing was exceptional at goal shooter, finishing the match with 45 goals at an amazing accuracy rate and combining brilliantly with Eaglehawk's Abbey Ryan.
Dual Sandhurst premiership star Meg Williams was in clever touch in three quarters at wing attack, while Eaglehawk's Ashley Ryan and Sandhurst's Brianna Dalrymple-Monro shared the duties at centre with great effect.
Cowling, who was in his first match as head-coach of the Bendigo team, said he was expecting a tough challenge from Outer East, which lived up to its billing as a quality team, under the guidance of former Gisborne coach Guy Keane.
"They were fit and tall and certainly kept coming at us," he said.
"I think the key for us was hard work. The first half we had new combinations all the way through the court, with a lot of those girls not having played together before, but by the second half we relaxed and the girls found their feet.
"There was plenty of consistency in the second half and a lot more confidence."
Bendigo showed it meant business with a brisk start, adding the first four goals of the match and seven of the first eight.
Despite Outer East having the better of things on the scoreboard during a 14-11 second quarter to pull within three goals at the main break, Cowling had only praise for his team performance.
"We were happy with our defensive pressure and we made it hard for them to get it down the court, although our finishing touch through transition let us down at times," he said.
"But we fixed that in the second half and pushed on.
"I thought we had standouts throughout the whole court - Clare Vearing was very accurate underneath the post, and in our midcourt, (wing defence) Chelsea Sartori really put a lot of pressure on their wing attack.
"It was really hard to pick a best, but I was happy for Maddy."
Cowling reserved plenty of praise for his defence, led by Stewart and featuring Sandhurst's Imogen Sexton and Eaglehawk's Allira Holmes at goal keeper for a half each.
Sexton returned to the court in the final term to play out the game at wing defence.
Cowling believed the win served as the perfect base for a strong tilt at the Association Championships, with Bendigo attempting to go one better than last season's runner-up finish.
"Obviously we have plenty of VNL experience in the group and I am sure the girls are even keener after today to get down the Association Champs," he said.
"Hopefully we can contest strongly for that.
"I thought our intensity was pretty good today, but we didn't end up doing that for the full 60 minutes.
"(Association Championships) we are only playing short games, so we'll need to make sure we keep that intensity up throughout."
The clash was also a valuable learning experience for South Bendigo young gun Chloe Langley, who spent the game on the bench, after a best on court performance in the BFNL 17-and-under team's 62-35 win over Outer East.
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