STRATHFIELDSAYE will enter the BFNL netball pre-season on a high following the appointment of a new coach and the luring of a star new recruit.
The Storm have appointed 2019 season best and fairest Steph Freemantle as A-grade coach for the 2021 season.
Her goal of lifting the Storm back into the finals for the first time since 2015 was given an immediate boost following the signing of former international volleyballer and Collingwood AFL Women's star Eliza Hynes.
The 28-year-old, who recently retired from professional sports, previously represented Victoria in netball as a junior before embarking on a stellar international volleyball and beach volleyball career, which included a stint in Europe.
Freemantle lauded the signing as the perfect introduction to her coaching career with the Storm.
"We are absolutely thrilled to bits to have Eliza join us, I have no doubt she will be an asset for so many reasons," she said.
"She comes with such a great background in professional sport that probably not a lot of other people in Bendigo can compare with.
"Just talking to her, she has some great things to say and add, not just on the sporting field, but around mindset.
"I am so excited to have her here at Strath, I know a few clubs approached her, but her attitude towards being a part of this club is something that aligns really well with the Storm.
"She's intent on being a part of the club and not just a player."
While no specific role has been earmarked for Hynes, Freemantle believed she would be an asset at either end of the court.
The Storm will aim to build on a 5-11 season and sixth-place finish in 2019.
Freemantle, who played her junior netball, including under-19s, at Eaglehawk and Golden Square, and played in Golden Square's A-grade premiership-winning team in 2015 following a long and distinguished career in the Geelong Football League, is excitedly looking forward to the next phase in her netball career.
An undoubted focus for the new coach will be nurturing the club's promising array of young talent.
"When I stopped and thought about why I wanted to coach, developing juniors and being involved in the club were big factors," Freemantle said.
"My dad and mum have always been heavily community-minded people and I had some great opportunities playing (state league) in Melbourne under some really great coaches, but I was always taught about giving back.
"I thought this was a great opportunity for me to share some of the things I have learned along the way and hopefully develop some juniors and have some wins.
"I think after the (COVID-19) year we have just had, it's most important we try and get people back and having some fun.
"It's been pretty hard for some people, so I think it will be good just emphasising the enjoyment part of sport."
After a year without senior netball due to the coronavirus pandemic, Freemantle is curious as to how the 2020 season will unfold.
"It will be interesting to see. We have been talking with most of our girls (last) week, who have signed on for the 2020 season - most of them are coming back," she said.
"We will lose a few for various reasons, but most of the girls are committed to coming back for next season.
"It's hard to say (how things will unfold), mental health has been a big issue this year, so we're hoping to support all the girls in getting back on the court and feeling safe and excited.
"I'm not sure of the situation at other clubs, but I'm hoping all clubs are able to fill their teams and it's a really competitive season for everyone."
The re-signings for 2020 are headed by 2019 season best and fairest runner-up Caitlyn Hamilton.
While the Storm have not played finals since finishing runners-up to Golden Square in 2015, they have rarely been far away from the top five.
Freemantle said while a return to finals action was both an aim and achievable, she was focused on the bigger picture.
"Probably in 2020 my main goal is developing those couple of young girls we have coming through, girls like Ava Hamilton, Serryn Eenjes and Angelica Jack," she said.
"Finals would be great, we almost got there last year, but I think this first year is more about cementing the team and hoping to develop some consistency within the team from year-to-year.
"Another thing I am keen to do is work with an A-squad as opposed to an A-grade and A-reserve. Especially through the first half of the season, I will be rotating girls through both sides to get the right combinations and see what works best."
Freemantle nominated her former Eaglehawk junior coach Wendy Ryan and her former Geelong league coach Leah Wilson as the main influences on her netball and coaching philosophies.
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