By Luke West
NEW White Hills coach Jack Fallon expects his side's improvement in the Heathcote District league this year to come from a far deeper list.
While the Demons have lost two of the competition's biggest names of recent years in former coach Sam Kerridge and star goalkicker Jed Lamb, their departures have been offset by the addition of 10 new recruits to Scott Street as the club continues to strive for its first senior flag since 1988.
"Last year we probably had a top 12 that was really strong and then it dropped away a bit after that whereas this year we've tried to put together what will be a really solid 22 from week to week," Fallon said.
"We've had a few hit-outs already and I think it's looking really positive."
The Demons' recruits include on-baller Brady Childs, who brings with him a wealth of experience at major league level in the Bendigo and Goulburn Valley leagues, as well as with the former Bendigo Bombers in the VFL.
Childs, who won Calivil United's best and fairest last year, will be an assistant coach to Fallon.
As well as Childs, the Demons have also added former Mooroopna senior player Bayden Fallon (mid/forward), Brayden Aitken (wing/midfield), Cohen Kekich (forward), Dylan Morris (rover), Ben Bacon (defender), James Davies (centre half-back), Tanner Deckert (ruckman) and Ryan Walker (midfield), while Sam Lowes is back at the club.
The busy recruiting by Fallon provides additions to all areas of the ground for the Demons - forward, back and midfield.
As well as the departures of Kerridge and Lamb, who kicked 113 goals in his two seasons with White Hills, the Demons have also lost ruckman Lachlan Sidebottom and midfielder Tate Mifka.
Gun half-back Fallon - the reigning Demons' best and fairest - takes over a White Hills team that last year burst out of the blocks winning its first six games before tapering off and finishing fourth with a 9-4 record.
"Everyone is really buying into what I'm trying to run as a gameplan, which has been great," Fallon said.
Everyone is really buying into what I'm trying to run as a gameplan, which has been great- Jack Fallon
"We've had good numbers at training... everyone is fit and firing, we haven't had any niggles yet and with Brady coming in with his experience, he has really helped me out a lot.
"In particular we'll have a lot more midfield depth with the players we've brought in. If you look at all the good sides they've got a really strong starting midfield and then a strong second tier that can back them up and that's what we want.
"Our backline was really good last year and we'll have some good forwards to kick to led by Mitch Dole and now we've brought Cohen Kekich in as well, plus some good young players like Eli Pearce, so we think we'll be dangerous in attack.
"I'm really happy with our recruits and we've got good numbers, so now we can't wait to get stuck into it."
The Demons face the toughest start to the season of any team with their first four opponents all likely finalists in Lockington-Bamawm United, Mount Pleasant, North Bendigo and Colbinabbin.
By Kieran Iles
Coach: Lauren Bowles.
Placing when season ended last year: Third.
Arrivals: Zoe Kennedy, Rhiana Broadbent, Lara Daly, Britt Fitzpatrick, Tegan Elliston.
Departures: Katelyn Perry, Eloise Gibbs.
First game: v Lockington-Bamawm United (April 9).
DUAL premiership coach Lauren Bowles concedes White Hills might not be as flush with the number of players it has had in recent seasons, but insists the Demons can still be a force in HDFNL netball.
Strong in all grades in recent years, as evidenced by a swag of A-grade, A-reserve, B-grade and B-reserve premierships, the Hillies again look superbly placed to be a contender at the top level.
The Demons have lost two of last year's A-grade team, which finished the home and away season in third place, with defender Katelyn Parry and Eloise Gibbs both absent for family reasons, and will be without Emily Gloury for much of their campaign as she continues to recover from an Achilles injury.
In their place, White Hills has added some exciting talent to its squad, headed by former Pyramid Hill coach Zoe Kennedy, North Bendigo pair Rhiana Broadbent and Lara Daly, and Tegan Elliston, who has made the switch from the LVFNL and Calivil United.
Best-on-court in Pyramid Hill's 2017 premiership win, Kennedy - a late pre-season acquisition - brings plenty of experience and versatility, being equally adept in the midcourt and shooting circle.
The Demons have been able to coerce former South Bendigo defender Elliston into playing, with her partner Brady Childs now at White Hills as an assistant coach to Jack Fallon.
Broadbent, who shone in defence for the Bulldogs last season, will be a direct replacement for Parry, while Daly, North Bendigo's coach in 2021, will bolster the midcourt.
The Demons have been further boosted by Britt Fitzpatrick, a part of LVFNL powerhouse Mitiamo's team last season and will regain Alana Wright (nee Prime) after a season off.
No doubt the biggest inclusion is the return of Bowles, who did not play last season, but will give the line-up an instant injection of class and experience.
A season of some change for the Demons still shapes as a strong one, according to their coach.
"We probably don't have the extra numbers that we have had in the past," Bowles said.
"We are probably sitting on that bare eight in each team.
"To lose only two players in A-grade was a pretty good result, but we have also gained a few in our A-squad, who I think will add a lot of depth.
"I feel our A-grade and A-reserve will be fairly strong, but that's without seeing who everyone else has picked up."
Bowles could not be more excited by the arrival of her two North Bendigo recruits, with Daly also making a return after succumbing to injury early in 2021.
To lose only two players in A-grade was a pretty good result, but we have also gained a few in our A-squad, who I think will add a lot of depth- Lauren Bowles
"She is recovering from an ACL, so we're hoping to get her on court, if not in round one, but one of the early rounds," she said.
"I'm even hoping myself I can get back on the court.
"We'll be quite young in our B-grade and B-reserve teams, but there's an opportunity for some of those young girls to step up, which is also exciting.
"I hear a lot of clubs are looking healthy this year, so I'm expecting a really great competition."
With midcourter Danni Wee-Hee the only premiership player from 2019 remaining in A-grade last season, White Hills did exceptionally well to finish the season with an 8-4-1 record and in third place.
Given Wee-Hee is again on board and with the likes of rebounding defender Molly Johnston, Georgia Nelson, goal shooter Olivia Treloar and zippy goal attack Alyssa Cole returning for a second season together, the Demons should be even better drilled in 2022.
Bowles said retaining their spot in the top three was definitely the aim.
"(That is) based on what we were able to do last year and with our retention rate being pretty high," she said.
"That extra year together this year can only strengthen those on-court connections, together with the depth we've added.
"I think it will be a good year."
The Demons' pre-season was rounded out with practice matches against BFNL clubs Strathfieldsaye and Kangaroo Flat in an excellent preparation for a big season ahead.
ROUND 1 - April 9
v Lockington-Bamawm United (h)
ROUND 2 - April 16
v Mount Pleasant (a)
ROUND 3 - April 23
v North Bendigo (h)
ROUND 4 - April 30
v Colbinabbin (a)
ROUND 5 - May 7
v Elmore (h)
ROUND 6 - May 14
ROUND 7 - May 21
v Heathcote (a)
ROUND 8 - May 28
v Leitchville-Gunbower (h)
ROUND 9 - June 4
v Huntly (a)
ROUND 10 - June 11
v Lockington-Bamawm United (a)
ROUND 11 - June 18
v Mount Pleasant (h)
ROUND 12 - June 25
v North Bendigo (a)
ROUND 13 - July 2
v Colbinabbin (h)
ROUND 14 - July 9
v Elmore (a)
ROUND 15 - July 16
ROUND 16 - July 23
v Heathcote (h)
ROUND 17 - July 30
v Leitchville-Gunbower (a)
ROUND 18 - August 6
v Huntly (h)
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