ANOTHER busy off-season on the recruiting front and the energy generated by a season without competitive netball has South Bendigo eyeing another rise up the BFNL ladder in 2021.
The Bloods, under two-time BFNL premiership coach Jannelle Hobbs, were the big improvers in the last season played in 2019, notching up their first A-grade finals appearance in 18 seasons and a fifth-place finish.
While the coronavirus pandemic might have temporarily stalled their upwards progress in 2020, it has done little to quell the enthusiasm and expectations at Harry Trott Oval.
"The girls have been training really strongly and we have had great numbers on the track," she said.
"We've had about 40 to 45 across the entire club doing two sessions a week. We're doing boot camp with Bunker HQ and then we are doing our Thursday night court sessions.
"I couldn't be happier with how it is all going. The girls are ultra-keen to get going this year."
The Bloods have retained the bulk of their A-grade list from 2019, minus their captain Chloe Adams, who has joined Golden Rivers club Murrabit.
The recruits are headed by former talented former Golden Square junior Abbey Grindal, who will form one-half of the Bloods' twin towers in attack alongside 2019 BFNL Rising Star award winner Chloe Langley, dual-code athlete Hayley Harrington, Wedderburn A-grade premiership player Ella Turnbull and North Central inter-league representative Amber Hollis.
They add to the club's 2020 recruiting class headed by Ballarat inter-league midcourter Keiarah Brooks, former A-grade captain Sarah Nash and Hollie Horbury.
"I felt we recruited really well last season and those girls never really got out on court," she said.
"Keiarah Brooks is going to be fantastic for us and we've picked up Abbey Grindal this year, who is going to be handy.
"(Abbey) and Chloe Langley are going to be huge in that goal circle.
"They are training super-well together, so I am really looking forward to seeing those two combine."
Hobbs is not the only person at South Bendigo excited by the prospect of pairing two of the region's most promising young shooters together.
So too are their team-mates, according to 2020 vice-captain and former Ballarat inter-league player Brooks.
"Especially as a midcourter feeding the ball in - that's even more exciting," she said.
"When we started doing matches at training, I wasn't expecting them to gel so quickly, but it just clicked right away.
"Putting aside the fact there was no season last year, you couldn't tell they had barely worked together before."
Harrington, a talented basketballer with the Bendigo Braves program, who played netball with Golden Square in 2019, will assume a role in defence.
With the BFNL getting younger by the year, Hobbs said she had specifically targeted developing players or those who had crammed plenty of experience into their young years.
"I think our oldest player is about 25, but in saying that Steph Goode is very experienced," she said.
"Just the pace and the skill level nowadays points that way (to the BFNL becoming a younger league).
"The top juniors are going straight into A-grade now, which is where they should be. Anywhere from 17 to 25 or 26 is where the bulk of our league is now."
Hobbs will get her first look at her squad under match conditions in this weekend's practice matches in Ballarat against Wendouree and Redan before targeting the Rochester Netball Invitational in March.
While she suspects her side will be greatly improved and will accordingly set their sights on a top-three finish, Hobbs knows gains will be hard won against the likes of Sandhurst, which is chasing a fourth-straight A-grade flag, Kangaroo Flat, which has added plenty of star power in Ashley and Abbey Ryan and Carly Van Den Heuvel, and a talent-laden Gisborne.
"My old club Kangaroo Flat have recruited super-well and are looking like they might be the benchmark," she said.
"They were up there already when we played last and have only strengthened their list, and you know Sandhurst isn't going away.
"But that's a challenge for us, we like to test ourselves against the best and see how we measure up."
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.