SANDHURST triple premiership coach Tamara Gilchrist insists the Dragons had not lost any of their hunger for success despite the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season before last week's call by the BFNL board.
The Dragons would not only have been chasing a flag four-peat had the 2020 season went ahead, but also league history.
No BFNL club in the league's history has won four A-grade netball premierships in a row.
Sandhurst has twice won three-consecutive flags, from 2005-07 and 2017-19.
But the quest for four in a row is on hold following the league's decision last week to cancel the 2020 season due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Admitting it had been a challenge keeping players motivated without the guarantee of a season, Gilchrist was adamant the Dragons had lost none of their edge or hunger for a rare four-peat during the months of uncertainty.
"We were really motivated and excited for the challenge of that," she said.
"That was the absolute ultimate goal; to work hard as we always do and try to achieve that.
"One, two and three (premierships) were all really special, but we were really 'eyes on the prize' to see what we could do to make the four happen."
Sandhurst was starting from a position of undoubted strength, returning seven of the eight players, who took to the court in last year's grand final triumph against Kangaroo Flat, minus three-time premiership defender Carly Van Den Heuvel, who has returned to Wangaratta.
The Dragons had regained brilliant goal attack Kelsey Meade after a season away from netball, and were to be further boosted by the full-time inclusion of rising star and Victorian 19-and-under representative Ruby Turner.
Meade, a member of the BFNL's 2010-19 team of the decade, was one of the stars in the Dragons' 2017 and '18 flag wins.
The availability of Turner, who also represents North East Blaze in the VNL competition, only added to the impressive array of young talent in Sandhurst A-grade team, with captain Meg Williams and defenders Imogen Sexton and Sophie Shoebridge all aged 21 or under.
Gilchrist said she could not have been happier for Turner following her selection in Netball Victoria's elite development squad.
"She's a little superstar and has so much talent," she said.
"She is amazing to play with and coach in the group, and she is such a humble person."
Gilchrist had again been anticipating strong challenges from the likes of Eaglehawk, Kangaroo Flat and Gisborne, despite the loss of some personnel, while South Bendigo was positioning itself towards its strongest run for some time following an extensive pre-season recruiting drive.
The Dragons coach expects players will continue to train as a group through until September.
"I don't think we will take a break, we will probably continue to do some form of fitness sessions - I guess it depends on what happens with the ball regulations," Gilchrist said.
"We will probably go back to one session a week and carry on like we would normally and try and keep some normality in the girls' lives.
"We will probably do that up until September, but it won't be as crucial as it has been. Then we will have our normal break and get back into another pre-season."
Gilchrist said the biggest positive to emerge from last week's BFNL decision was a commitment from the league for some type of 17-and-under netball and under-18 football seasons.
"That's huge positive for those young girls. I know we have all struggled with it, but you can't imagine what it must be like for girls and boys 14, 15 and 16 to have sport taken from them when it's a huge part of their life," she said.
"We lose a lot of kids from sport at the age, so I think it's really important to keep them interested and motivated.
"To get a season up would be awesome."
Sandhurst is also chasing a four-peat at 17-and-under level following wins over Maryborough in 2017, Gisborne in 2018 and Golden Square in 2019.
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