TRADITIONAL HDFNL powerhouse White Hills has brushed off the absence of its coach to kick-start its 2022 season with a win over a vastly-improved Lockington-Bamawm United.
The Demons, featuring several new recruits, defeated the tenacious Cats 61-41.
A revealing season opening round for all but four clubs, which played standalone games last week, also brought wins for Elmore over Mount Pleasant (59-33), Colbinabbin against North Bendigo (54-40) and Huntly over Heathcote (48-29).
With dual-premiership coach Lauren Bowles missing, Emily Gloury took the coaching reins for White Hills' 20-goal victory against the Cats.
With plenty of new faces in the line-up, it was a nervy start for the Demons, who led by only two goals at quarter time.
But they were able to settle after the break and steadily increased their lead throughout the day.
Filling in for Bowles, Gloury said it was great to see it all come together, especially during the second half.
"They are still getting used to playing with each other, which makes things hard, but after that second quarter we had some really beautiful plays happening between all of the girls," she said.
"We had four newbies. Tegan Elliston really stepped up to best on court for us.
"She ran four quarters in the centre, when she's normally a defender, but with Loz (Bowles) away, we kind of leaned on her in the midcourt and she was fantastic with her deflections and intercepts.
"And Zoe Kennedy, who is also new, played goal attack in there with Liv Treloar and that combo really worked well.
"She is that sweeping goal attack, which opens it up for Liv to hold a bit easier."
Another of the newcomers Rhiana Broadbent performed well in defence alongside one of last season's standouts Molly Johnston.
Gloury paid credit LBU for a tough contest and acknowledged the Cats had improved greatly over the off-season.
"They've really stepped up this year; they had some really handy players through their midcourt," she said.
"Their wing attack Maddy Atherton had a ripper game and their shooter (and coach) Jessie Hardess, she can get it anywhere in the ring and bomb it in.
"It was putting that pressure on Molly and Rhi to try and stop the ball getting into the ring because she can shoot from anywhere.
"It was a good hit-out and credit to them, they stuck in the game."
It was exactly the tough hit-out that will leave the Demons well prepared for next Saturday's clash at Mount Pleasant.
The Demons and Blues played out a thrilling draw in their only encounter last season.
At Heathcote, a remodelled Huntly emerged with the points in a potential danger game against the Saints, which entered the contest following a victory in last week's clash against North Bendigo, but below full strength.
A 19-goal victory was led by big performances from goal attack Sophie Disher and young goal defence Serryn Eenjes.
Back for her sixth season as Hawks coach, Emily Eliades was rapt to have started the season on a winning note against a team that has posed some difficulties for her team in past years.
She said it was disappointing for Heathcote to have players missing, including their co-coach and reigning league best and fairest Brooke Bolton.
"Nevertheless, it was a really good game and a really good contest despite them missing some of their quality players," Eliades said.
"But for us, we have an almost completely new team and they are young as well. Serryn Eenjes is only just 18.
"As a result, our first quarter, we were really shaky. That might have just been nerves and a bit of excitement. But once we settled in we were a lot better."
Eliades rated Disher as a clear best on court for the Hawks, showing the benefits of an outstanding off-season and pre-season.
Arguably the match-up of the day was that between Hawks wing defence Taylor Mann and Saints wing attack Isobel Caughey, both newcomers this season and both solid performers for their respective teams.
Huntly had five players in total take the court for the first time in brown and gold in A-grade, including Eenjes, Mann, Sarah Chalmers, Laura Parkhill and Keely O'Brien.
It was the Hawks' first round one win since they defeated Heathcote in 2015, breaking a streak of four straight losses (they had a round one bye in 2017).
Elmore's win over Mount Pleasant ensured the Bloods were the first HDFNL teams to reach two wins this season following last week's victory against Colbinabbin.
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