MARYBOROUGH coach Alicia Cassidy hopes a few new on-court combinations and an injection of fresh faces can help propel the Magpies up the BFNL A-grade ladder in 2021.
The Magpies start their season on Saturday with one of the toughest assignments in netball, an away clash against reigning premiers Sandhurst.
Cassidy, who will lead the Magpies into battle for premiership points as a non-playing coach for the first time on Saturday at the QEO, got an early look at the Dragons last week as an interested spectator at their standalone Good Friday clash at Strathfieldsaye.
She noted the Dragons, who are chasing a historic fourth premiership in a row this season and defeated the Storm 58-34, had lost none of their potency or hunger.
"They looked incredibly strong despite copping a pretty hot day for their first game," she said.
"Strath was able to hold it with them in the first half and did a great job. Steph (Freemantle) their coach had them working well, so I think it will be a really strong competition this season.
"But you have to hand it to Sandhurst, they are definitely strong all over the court, so my girls will definitely need to be on their game on Saturday."
It's a new era for the Magpies and also Cassidy, who has retired after 23 stellar seasons as a player, but will guide the A-grade team's fortunes from the sidelines.
The BFNL's games record holder is clearly excited by the challenge in front of her, particularly with a few new faces in the A-squad and some established stars taking on some new roles.
"We will have a few different combinations to recent years, so I am really looking forward to it," she said.
"It's certainly going to be different from the sidelines, I don't think I have sat down once in the two practice matches that I have coached."
Among those taking on new on-court roles in 2021 is star Magpie Jordan Macilwain, who has found a new home at the defensive end of the court.
"Jordy is doing us a massive favour by heading down to the backline this year and she is actually loving it," Cassidy said.
"It's a change, something a lot of us have done throughout our careers, and she is enjoying the chance to develop another part of her game."
A standout on the training track has been young goal shooter Keely Hare, who is the Magpies' reigning best and fairest, and a joint winner of the award two seasons ago.
"She is super-fit, putting in the training hours and still as accurate as ever," Cassidy said.
"She will be our focal point in attack with newcomers from the district league in Chrissy James (from Carisbrook) and Shannae Mills (from Natte Bealiba)."
James, who has represented the Maryborough Castlemaine District at inter-league level, previously played with Lake Wendouree in the Ballarat FNL and will bring plenty of experience and pace to the attacking end.
A largely young Magpies squad also features twins Ella and Maggie Tranter, defender Bella Westbrook and Brandy Santon, who along with Hare, were all members of the Magpies 17-and-under grand final team in 2017.
They are joined by experienced defender Chloe Egan and newcomers Keisha Tonzing, who has been playing basketball alongside some of her now netball team-mates with Maryborough Blazers, and zippy midcourter Briella Gibbs (from Dunolly).
"I feel we have some good depth, but I guess it will take us a few weeks to work out the right combinations and that will also depend on we are lining up against," Cassidy said.
"I think we are a bit of an unknown with all the new combinations and can be a bit of a dark horse."
The Magpies finished the 2019 season in eighth spot with three wins and a draw from their 16 games.
With many Magpies netballers and footballers attending a wedding on Saturday, the A-grade clash will start at the unusual time of 11.30am, while the senior football will kick-off at 12.30pm.
Cassidy said the club was grateful to Sandhurst for agreeing to the earlier starting times.
In Saturday's other games, Gisborne hosts Strathfieldsaye at 2.30pm, Eaglehawk opens its season against Kangaroo Flat at Canterbury Park at 5pm, and Kyneton clashes with Golden Square at 6pm.
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