GOLDEN City association netballers were treated to a surprise at last Saturday's round of junior matches.
On display at the entrance to the courts at Bendigo Stadium was the Melbourne Vixens' 2020 Suncorp Super Netball premiership trophy.
Excited youngsters were quick to embrace the opportunity to get a photo with the trophy at the end of their games.
The trophy, won by the Vixens in October, is making a low-key tour of regional Victoria, including stays at Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong, Benalla this week and Gippsland the following week.
Netball Victoria northern region manager Pam Ferrari said the Golden City Netball Association's chance to host the trophy was a reward for its hard work in getting a junior season up and running in 2020.
"We didn't do a whole lot of publicity around it, simply because of COVID restrictions and we didn't want to overwhelm the committee, who are already under considerable pressure to get games up and going," she said.
"They were naturally excited and the kids especially have loved it.
"We've had lots of photos taken - mums and players and also coaches."
The Vixens' premiership win over the West Coast Fever was a particular source of pride for the GCNA, in light of the starring role played by Bendigo-born goaler Caitlin Thwaites.
Thwaites, who played her 232nd and final national league game in the grand final after announcing her retirement, played her first netball as a youngster at Golden City.
"Certainly Caitlin was from here and so was Ruby Barkmeyer (who was signed by the Vixens earlier this month as a potential goal shooting replacement for Thwaites), so we've had a few Vixens come through here over the years," Ferrari said.
"I and everyone else are really proud of both of those girls, and not just for what Caitlin did on the court, but off the court and in the community as well.
"Caitlin has worked extensively in the community and I'm so proud of her.
"And Ruby is our up-and-coming champion - hopefully she will take over from where Caitlin left off.
"It's amazing having one Bendigo girl coming out of the Vixens side and one coming in."
GCNA president Rachel Thomsen said the trophy's appearance had added to the buzz of an already unique season for the GCNA, which was one of only a small number of associations across Victoria to be able to return to the court during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're absolutely delighted to have the SSN premiership trophy with us, it's been lovely for Golden City players and members to get a photo opportunity," she said.
"Most of the kids sent well-wishes to the Vixens before the grand final, so to be rewarded with a chance to get up close and personal with the trophy has been incredible, especially with the link Golden City shares with Caitlin Thwaites.
"What a way it was for her to finish off her career with a premiership. She started at Golden City and now the premiership trophy is here. She's a winner and now these kids get to feel like a winner too."
The association will stage its grand finals on December 13 and will next year celebrate its 60th year.
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