The shortened 2021 BFNL season was as much a learning experience for Kyneton coach Paul Chapman as it was for his playing group.
After a strong recruiting campaign and another pre-season under their belts, Chapman is confident the Tigers will be an improved outfit in 2022.
Midfielders Dean Bartrop and Lachie Ford and defenders Steve Georgiou, Mason Crozier and Frazer Driscoll head a recruiting list that could have a couple of other names on it by round one.
"We've done okay recruiting wise this year and we've had guys like Oscar Power and Jake Safstrom come back to the club,'' Chapman said
"We will be more experienced than what we were last year and the bi-product of that is that everyone has to work for their spots.
"Last year we were young and we gave guys opportunities in senior footy.
"This year we have more depth, everyone has trained well over pre-season to try and claim their spot.
"The practice game results have been good, but more importantly I've liked the way we've played our footy.
"We've picked up from where we left off last year and we've improved a lot of those little things that make you a better footy side."
Georgiou, Crozier and Driscoll stiffen the Tigers' back six and give Chapman some flexibility through the middle of the ground.
"We were undermanned a little bit down back and we wanted to take the load off a little bit of some individuals,'' Chapman said.
"When you bolster your backline it does free up some players that were in the backline to move up the ground.
"While it sounds like we've bolstered our backline, through that we've been able to make some moves and improve our midfield and forward line."
Last year there was a clear top six in the BFNL, with Kyneton seventh - well ahead of the three bottom teams.
Chapman said the Tigers took some inspiration from South Bendigo after the Bloods soared into the top five in 2021.
"The plan is to challenge for the top five,'' Chapman said.
"Every year is different and it's hard to know where we stand, but you look at what South Bendigo did last year by jumping up the ladder.
"We know there were a lot of quality teams that finished higher on the ladder than us last year. I felt as though we beat the teams we were expected to beat and we were competitive through stages with some of those better teams.
"Last year was a great learning experience and now the challenge is to improve on those results.
"If we can push into the top five that would be great, but as a club our first goal is to be more competitive for longer against those top teams.
"When we get challenged by those top teams we want to be able to hold our ground."
The Tigers have lost Tom O'Sullivan and Will Daly, while there are doubts surrounding the playing futures of Jordan Mangan and Hamish Govan.
Talented young forward Caleb Fisher is back training after missing all of 2021 with a knee injury.
"He's on the right track, but he probably won't be ready to play until round four or five,'' Chapman said.
"Coming back from a knee reconstruction we're not going to take any risks with him."
Teenagers Ben Cameron and Angus Nolte are in the Bendigo Pioneers squad for the NAB League season.
"Hopefully, they play some really good footy for the Pioneers and we look forward to having them play a few games with us as well,'' Chapman said.
The Tigers open their season against Castlemaine at Camp Reserve before hosting a blockbuster Good Friday night game against Gisborne in round two.
Coach: Dianne Guest-Oakley.
Placing when season ended last year: Seventh.
Arrivals: Tilly Shepherd, Sarah Hustwaite.
Departures: Tylah Marchbank, Tegan Beckerley
Last A-grade premiership: Never won an A-grade flag.
Summary: After doing plenty of hard yards with its netball program over the past five or six years, Kyneton is hoping the rebuild will pay dividends in 2022.
For only the second time since 2016, the Tigers will field teams in all five grades of BFNL netball.
In an equally encouraging sign, the load will be shared with all five teams being coached by different individual coaches.
That has rarely been the case in recent years, particularly in 2019, when Dianne Guest-Oakley, who has made a comeback as A-grade coach this season, took charge of all four of the Tigers' senior grade teams.
Guest-Oakley, who led Kyneton to an A-reserve flag in 2018, the year the Tigers did not field an A-grade team, replaces Tylah Marchbank, who is playing in Melbourne this season.
Marchbank is one of two major outs from last year's A-grade team at this stage, with Tegan Beckerley also playing in Melbourne.
The Tigers have been able to snare some handy recruits though, led by Tilly Shepherd.
The versatile and hard-working defender will be a welcome acquisition at either goal keeper or goal defence and brings with her VNL experience, having previously played for Melbourne University Lightning's under-19 team.
Kyneton is anticipating only a few appearances from gun goal attack Claire Oakley, who will be lining up with Tasmania Netball League club Cavaliers this season.
"That is fantastic for her, we are really happy for Claire," said Tigers netball operations manager Loryn Savoia.
Kyneton's core will again comprise the Mangan sisters - last season's best and fairest winner Brooke, Rachelle and Jess - and imposing goal shooter Michelle Fletcher, while Lauren Anglin, a standout in last season's A-reserve team and the best and fairest winner, will also likely feature in A-grade.
The Tigers have also picked up Sarah Hustwaite, from Melbourne, who will bolster the A-squad in defence, and are hopeful Stephanie Penning will recommit to another season.
One player who won't be lining up for the Tigers is their 2014 season league medallist Emma Webb.
The experienced midcourter, who has played off and on with the Tigers since her medal-winning season, will line up with Castlemaine instead.
Savoia said she expected some of the club's promising younger players to be afforded opportunities with an eye to the future.
"We are still a little tight on numbers (across the grades) and are desperately trying to hunt down so more to join the side," she said.
"We are hopeful this year is shaping up to be a bit more successful across the board.
"It's looking good so far. If we were able to finish top-five with some of our teams we'd be stoked.
"We are getting to the pointy end of the pre-season, so we are not far away now."
Just as important for the Tigers, the hard work away from the playing court appears to be bearing fruit.
"Every year we seem to be slowly sitting in a better position, so that's exciting," Savoia said.
"It's great that we will be sharing the coaching load around, it's a massive ask having one or two coaches doing multiple teams.
"It's a big job, so we are happy to slowly get more people involved."
The Tigers have played a pair of practice matches, acquitting themselves well against Riddell District club Woodend-Heskett and Central Highlands league club Daylesford.
ROUND 1 - April 9
v Castlemaine (a)
ROUND 2 - April 15
v Gisborne (h) (n)
ROUND 3 - April 23
v Strathfieldsaye (a)
ROUND 4 - April 30
v South Bendigo (h)
ROUND 5 - May 7
v Kangaroo Flat (a)
ROUND 6 - May 14
v Golden Square (h)
ROUND 7 - May 28
v Eaglehawk (a)
ROUND 8 - June 4
v Sandhurst (h)
ROUND 9 - June 11
v Maryborough (a)
ROUND 10 - June 18
v Castlemaine (h)
ROUND 11 - June 25
v Gisborne (a)
ROUND 12 - July 9
v Strathfieldsaye (h)
ROUND 13 - July 16
v South Bendigo (a)
ROUND 14 - July 23
v Kangaroo Flat (h)
ROUND 15 - July 30
v Golden Square (a)
ROUND 16 - August 6
v Eaglehawk (h)
ROUND 17 - August 13
v Sandhurst (a)
ROUND 18 - August 20
v Maryborough (h)
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