By Luke West
A GROUP committed to learning and developing is how new Bridgewater coach Rick Ladson describes his 2022 squad for the Loddon Valley league season.
A premiership player with the Mean Machine back in 2015, Ladson has returned to Bridgewater for his second stint as a senior coach having previously led Golden Square to the 2013 BFNL flag.
Ladson takes over a Bridgewater side from former co-coaches Jayden Donaldson and Dale Cameron that, following two rebuilding years in 2018 and 2019 off the back of their LVFNL record seven flags in a row and a runner-up finish between 2010 and 2017, last year returned to its contender status.
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The Mean Machine finished 3rd with a 10-2 record from their 12 games in the COVID-interrupted season that was called off due to community sport restrictions before the finals could start.
"Until you start playing it's obviously tough to know where you're at, but what I do know is it's a quality group that is committed," Ladson said.
"From a coaching point of view it's good to know that it's a playing group that cares for one another, they train hard and it's a really galvanised group considering what has happened to footy over the past two years in terms of the interruptions.
"The guys who we've recruited have come in and been treated like they have been here for a while; if we can stay healthy I've got no doubt our improvement will come from our young locals, which is really exciting."
From a coaching point of view it's good to know that it's a playing group that cares for one another, they train hard and it's a really galvanised group considering what has happened to footy over the past two years in terms of the interruptions- Rick Ladson
As well as a new coach in Ladson, new players joining the Mean Machine for season 2022 include Harry Donegan (mid/forward), Jacob Murphy (defender), Jacob Ellings (utility), Jack OZanne (ruckman), Callum Prest (midfielder), Tynan Hywood (half-forward), Riley Treloar (mid/forward) and Sam Dewar (ruckman).
The crafty Donegan is a 2013 Golden Square premiership team-mate of Ladson who played eight senior games for the Bulldogs last year, while Prest is a four-time premiership player at Bridgewater - including being awarded the best-on-ground medal in the 2015 flag - who is returning to the club from Sandhurst.
Ruckman Ozanne from Gisborne was runner-up in the Bendigo league's 2019 under-18 Symons Medal.
Departures from last season include reigning best and fairest Jarrod Fitzpatrick and Liam Jacques, who have both joined Golden Square, Boden Alexander, Alex Powell, Joe Mayes and Tom Dowd.
"We've lost some top-end talent, but we've gone out and targeted some quality young players and we think we've done that with Jacob Murphy, Riley Treloar, Jack Ozanne and Jacob Ellings, who are all in their early 20s, so it brings a bit of youth back into the side," Ladson said.
The Mean Machine boasts the competition's leading goalkicker of last year in Josh Martyn, who booted 57, while midfielder/forward Andrew Collins, now 33, remains one of the LVFNL's most dangerous X-factor players.
"When you look at the list we've still got plenty of experienced talent across the board... Andy Collins, big Cameron Ross in the ruck, Alex Pollock in the midfield, Darren Clutton will still play a role with us and there's a really good group around them," Ladson said.
"If we can get consistency through the group then I think our best can be fairly good.
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"It has been a busy off-season and just like everyone, we're excited to, hopefully, have an uninterrupted season and just looking forward to getting out there in round one and playing some footy together."
Bridgewater faces two big tests to start the season with a pair of games against rivals Pyramid Hill and Marong in the opening two rounds.
By Adam Bourke
Bridgewater is confident it can challenge for a top three berth in Loddon Valley netball in 2022.
The Mean Machine were well on track to play finals in 2021 before the season came to an abrupt end because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While closing the gap on last year's competition leader Mitiamo won't be an easy task, Bridgewater netball operations manager Tash Stringer expected the Mean Machine to be a finals team in 2022.
"It's always hard to tell at this time of year, but I think we'll be very competitive,'' Stringer said.
"We've got some new players, so once we get a few games under our belt, I think we'll be around the mark."
Aimee Brown returns as A-grade coach for a third year and, despite the departures of Brianna Dalrymple-Monro, Jenna Collins and Kirsten Galea, the Mean Machine have a strong mix of youth and experience.
Headlining the A-grade recruits is Carly Ladson - the wife of new senior football coach, Rick Ladson.
A premiership player with Colbinabbin in the HDFNL and a former A-grade representative at Golden Square, Carly Ladson adds some class and experience to the Mean Machine group.
While Carly Ladson could slot into a number of different roles, Stringer said she was most likely to play goal defence.
Goal shooter Claudia Collins returns in an assistant coaching role, while veteran wing defence Caz Wood is back on court.
Stringer said Collins and Wood had already played a big role in the development of two of the club's brightest young stars - 15-year-old midcourt player Daisy Stringer and 17-year-old goal attack/shooter Mia Burge.
The positivity at senior level has filtered its way through the rest of the netball club.
"There's a great feeling across the club - everyone is up and about,'' Stringer said.
"Initially, it was hard to get everyone going again after the last two years being so interrupted, but once we got stuck into pre-season everyone got back involved.
There's a great feeling across the club - everyone is up and about- Tash Stringer
"We've had people putting their hands up for jobs and we have plenty of people willing to help out with umpiring."
Stringer said player numbers were strong in almost every grade.
"We have pretty good numbers across the board, except for the under-13s,'' Stringer said.
"If there's anyone out there that would be interested in playing in the under-13s, or knows someone that's looking for a game in that age group, we'd love to hear from you.
"The other grades have good numbers, in particular our minis. The minis are out of control with so many kids wanting to play, which is great for the club."
In terms of A-grade, Stringer said Mitiamo would again be the team to beat, but she expected another club to make a giant step forward in 2022.
"I've heard Marong looks like being the big improver,'' Stringer said.
"Obviously, Mitiamo and the likes of Calivil are always hard to beat.
"I guess, in a way we're all back to square one after how hard it's been in the past couple of years."
Bridgewater's netballers take the next step in their season preparations with practice matches against HDFNL club Elmore this weekend.
ROUND 1 - April 2
v Pyramid Hill (h)
ROUND 2 - April 9
v Marong (a)
ROUND 3 - April 23
v Inglewood (h)
ROUND 4 - April 30
v Bears Lagoon-Serpentine (a)
ROUND 5 - May 7
v Calivil United (h)
ROUND 6 - May 14
ROUND 7 - May 21
v Newbridge (a)
ROUND 8 - May 28
v Maiden Gully YCW (h)
ROUND 9 - June 4
v Mitiamo (a)
ROUND 10 - June 18
v Pyramid Hill (a)
ROUND 11 - June 25
v Marong (h)
ROUND 12 - July 2
v Inglewood (a)
ROUND 13 - July 9
v Bears Lagoon-Serpentine (h)
ROUND 14 - July 16
v Calivil United (a)
ROUND 15 - July 23
ROUND 16 - July 30
v Newbridge (h)
ROUND 17 - August 6
v Maiden Gully YCW (a)
ROUND 18 - August 13
v Mitiamo (h)
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