The AFL Academy selection of three Bendigo Pioneers players proves the club's program is on the right track, according to region operations talent lead David Meade.
Over the years many talented young players in the Pioneers region have moved away to attend private schools and further their football.
Meade said there was a wealth of opportunities for players in their own backyard.
Strathfieldsaye's Octavia Di Donato, Tongala's Harley Reid and Balranald's earned selection in the prestigious AFLW and AFL Academy for 2022.
"We're so happy for the three of them because they are immersed in our program all the time,'' Meade said.
"It's fantastic for the club to have so many players in the program. I think Oakleigh might be the only club with more.
"It just shows you don't have to move away to give yourself the best opportunity. It's always been a challenge for the club."
Di Donato has progressed to be one of the premier under-18 midfielders in country Victoria.
"Octavia's skills are elite and she's an athlete,'' Meade said.
"She was one of our highest possession winners last season as a bottom-age player. She has loads of ability."
Reid and Gilbee turned heads in their first season at NAB League level with the Pioneers and look to have bright futures.
Reid can play in the midfield or across half-forward, while Gilbee is an attacking defender.
"Both boys have always been highly-touted,'' Meade said.
"Harley is bottom-age and there's only a couple of bottom-age players in the Academy.
"Jason was aligned with Golden Square this year, but is going back to Balranald."
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Former Collingwood player Tarkyn Lockyer is in charge of the AFL and AFLW Academy program.
"Members of the NAB AFL and AFLW Academy will be given the opportunity to develop themselves as people and players under the guidance of expert coaching, high performance and wellbeing staff,'' Lockyer said.
"The program is aligned with the National Talent Pathways philosophy of 'Developing Better People, Better Players' by using a holistic development approach to focus on the growth of the individual, on and off the field, and their ability to contribute to a team environment.
"The program content will be delivered through a mixture of face-to-face and online modules. Each of the squads will also get the opportunity to showcase their talents in a high-performance camp and representative game."
The first block of the Pioneers' pre-season winds up at the end of this week.
The squads have a final training session on Wednesday night before the girls have NAB League fitness testing in Melbourne on Sunday.
"We'll take 30 girls to the fitness testing,'' Meade said.
"They'll have a break for Christmas and then the girls will resume training in mid-January and the boys return in late January.
"We're very happy with the way everything is going, particularly the training bases we have in Mildura, Swan Hill and Echuca.
"We've been able to cast our net a bit wider and invite in more young players to have a look at."
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