AFTER a big pre-season and with many new faces on board, Bendigo Spirit star Carley Ernst says the team is 'super-excited' to get into the real stuff.
The Spirit opens a 2019-20 WNBL campaign full of promise against the Melbourne Boomers at Bendigo Stadium on Saturday night, with Ernst among nine new faces from last season's roster, which went 7-14.
For the 25-year-power forward, Saturday night can't come soon enough.
"I think we are all just super-excited for it to finally be here," Ernst said.
"It's been a long pre-season, lots of hard work has gone into putting the team together and we've been training very hard, so I think we are all very excited."
The well-travelled Ernst will be lining up with her sixth WNBL club, after previous stints with the AIS, Dandenong Rangers (twice), Canberra Capitals, Adelaide Lightning and Perth Lynx.
A seamless transition to the Spirit has the former national under-19 and under-17 representative confident they have the team chemistry and game plan to make the climb back up the ladder from last season's seventh-place finish.
"I feel that we are gelling really well; we just all fit in and we know each other's games and know what we do," Ernst said.
"Everyone brings something different to the team, which is really exciting.
"I love a fast-paced running game, just being able to push things out and not have to slow things down - it suits our team really well."
An exciting new era for the club under new coach Tracy York includes some touching and inspiring links to the past, following the return of dual Spirit championship players Kelly Wilson and Gabe Richards, and Opals guard Tessa Lavey, who was a member of the club's second championship win in 2013-14.
I feel that we are gelling really well; we just all fit in and we know each other's games and know what we do.Carley Ernst
Ernst could not be more impressed by the influence on a mostly young playing group of Wilson, who has won four WNBL championships in total.
"I had never played with her before, but had always heard such nice things," she said.
"Playing with her during the pre-season, it's been exciting.
"She is just such a smart player and always has such great feedback to help you grow as a player."
In Abbey Wehrung, Shyla Heal, Kara Tessari and Demi Skinner, Ernst believed the Spirit were as just as well-stocked for young talent.
"For once I kind of feel old in the group, which is a first," she said.
"The younger girls are all bubbly and bright and being able to help them with my experience, as an older player, has been great."
The Spirit and Boomers are no strangers this season already, having met in a pre-season encounter in Traralgon.
Bendigo won that clash in a nail-biter by two points, but will face a strengthened Boomers this time after they were without their import Sophie Cunningham.
Ernst said her team knew exactly what to expect from the Boomers, who finished last season in third spot and will be the Spirit's opponent again next weekend in Melbourne.
"They are going to be a tough team this year, as every team in the league is going to be tough," she said.
"We just need to trust in what we have put into putting the team together and trust in the process.
"Come Saturday we'll be ready."
Ernst is the Spirit's vice-captain, behind joint captains Wilson and Lavey.