IT'S been a remarkable season of netball already for Sophie Shoebridge, but the classy Sandhurst defender hopes it's just getting warmed up.
The 17-year-old has gone from strength-to-strength with both her BFNL club and Victorian Netball League club Geelong Cougars, earning selection in the VNL 19-and-under team of the year.
It was just reward for the swift moving and diligent defender, who has just completed her second season with Cougars, while boarding at Geelong Grammar.
Shoebridge is one of three Bendigo region netballers to be named in VNL teams of the year, alongside Gisborne's Keara Fitzgerald (also 19-and-under) and Elmore goaler Ruby Barkmeyer (division one).
"I definitely didn't expect it at all - it's lovely," said Shoebridge, whose Cougars side finished in third place.
"It was a great way to finish the (VNL) season up on a high note.
"There was definitely some disappointment for us, going down to (City West) Falcons in the preliminary final.
"We definitely didn't play our best, but there's a bit of fire in the belly now to come out next season and smash it."
Shoebridge humbly refers to Cougars and Sandhurst as her families.
"Cougars is such a great family, everyone is so lovely. We train together as a full squad and everyone is just so welcoming," she said.
"When I first came down (to Geelong) I didn't feel like an outsider or anything; everyone is willing to help and we know if we are prepared to work hard together we are building a stronger club.
"I love how much of a community it is.
"Sandhurst too is 100 per-cent my family. They have been so amazing and so accommodating with me, especially being down here in Geelong and not being able to train often.
"They just make sure that when I do come back and train I am welcome and it's done with no fuss."
Shoebridge finds herself in the relatively unique position of chasing her second A-grade premiership medal in just two seasons in the top BFNL grade, with the Dragons heading into a tantalising finals series as minor premiers.
The versatile defender showed she's up for the challenge, when among Sandhurst's very best players in a rematch with last season;'s grand final rival Gisborne at the QEO two weekends ago.
Shoebridge is adamant her VNL experience has made her a more complete and composed player
"The people you get to play in front of is amazing - there's people there watching you week-in, week-out," she said.
"And the level of coaching you are getting is second-to-none.
"I feel I have improved so much in the two years I've been playing VNL.
"The extra hours and intensity VNL is played at is amazing, and I feel like I can bring that back to club level back at Sandhurst."
Shoebridge praised the influence of Victorian Fury coach Di Honey in helping get her into the VNL, her 19-and-under coach Mel Savage, and her Sandhurst coaches Tamara Gilchrist and Heather Oliver, as keys in her rapid development.
"Tam has always been one of my biggest supporters - she has also backed me in everything I do," she said.
"Ollie has always been one of my idols, just the way she balances everything, like when she was playing basketball and netball both at a high level.
"All those people have influenced me in different ways, and kept on pushing me and grown my love for the sport."
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