BENDIGO'S immense netball strength is again set to be underlined on a state level.
Wednesday night's Victorian Netball League (VNL) division one grand final will feature four of the city's top players, with Sandhurst star Meg Williams and her North East Blaze team-mates going up against a Boroondara Express team, powered by Chelsea Sartori (Kangaroo Flat), Abbey Ryan (Eaglehawk) and Ruby Barkmeyer (Elmore).
They will be joined on the grand final stage by South Bendigo young-gun Chloe Langley, whose City West Falcons meet Peninsula Waves in the 19-and-under final.
The Blaze will head into their final as favourites after securing the minor premiership and with two 10-plus goal regular wins over their rival.
But the Express have found themselves on a roll at the right end of the season, with consecutive finals wins, including an upset one goal win over second-placed Geelong Cougars last week.
Class midcourter Sartori conceded her side had endured their fair share of difficulties with the Blaze this season.
"They are very experienced and we have had a lot of movement within our team, with a few state players and some going up to championship division," she said.
"With girls coming in and out it's been hard to find that consistency, whereas Express have been a team, which has stuck together all season.
"They've only lost a couple of games, which shows their strength."
A feature of both the Express' finals win was their barnstorming finish, after they were down for the bulk of their 52-44 semi-final win over Hawks, and for all but the last minute in the preliminary final win over Cougars.
Williams, who has been on the end of two losing VNL grand finals with Blaze in the under-19s, is hoping for an overdue change in fortune.
"Hopefully it's third time lucky," said the midcourter, who has been best on court in the past two BFNL grand finals for the Dragons, who will be chasing a third-consecutive flag next month.
"We definitely have to look out for their midcourt, they are very good at feeding it into Ruby (Barkmeyer). We have to shut that down as much as we can.
"We'll need to get on top of them early and take control of it from there."
The division one grand final quartet are among a large contingent of Bendigo region players plying their trade in the VNL - Victoria's premier netball competition - this season.
Others include rising star Langley, Ashley Ryan, Maddy Stewart, Claire Vearing, and Zoe Davies and Imogen Sexton, who were championship division premiership players in 2018 with City West Falcons.
Williams pointed to a strong camaraderie between the Bendigo girls.
"It's weird, but if I wasn't in the grand final, I would be barracking for the other girls," said Williams, who was a team-mate of Sartori and Ryan in this season's BFNL inter-league team.
All four combatants hope Bendigo will one day have a VNL team to call its own, after a consortium representing the north central region was unsuccessful in its bid to gain a licence late last year.
"We'd love to play in a Bendigo team," Sartori said.
"The travel going to Melbourne each week can be quite tiring and exhausting when you spend more time in a car than what you do on a netball court.
"It would be a lot easier, but it is nice meeting new people in the VNL too.
"I know the experience we get down in Melbourne helps the league back here when we come back to play."
Wednesday night will be special in many ways for 17-year-old Langley, from Castlemaine.
"It will be my first grand final .... for it to be in that league, I'm actually really nervous," she said.
"We were on top of the ladder all year, but lost the semi-final to Peninsula.
"We actually drew with Peninsula twice throughout the season and lost to them by three in the final. We've been working hard on what we need to beat them, so I'm confident we can come away with a win."
A big season for Langley has included representing Victoria at the 17-and-under national championships and captaining the BFNL 17-and-under team in the early part of their campaign.
Grand final starting times: 19-and-under (6.50pm); division one (7pm).
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