HIS Victorian team may have come up short of a grand final win at the Australian Men's and Mixed Netball Association Championships, but Bendigo's Jayden Cowling wouldn't trade the experiences he had in Adelaide last week for anything.
The national championships were a long time coming for the 25-year-old, who competed in the open men's competition.
He was first picked in the Victorian open men's squad nearly three years ago, but was left disappointed when both the 2020 and 2021 championships were cancelled due to COVID.
Eager to make up for lost time, Cowling certainly made the most of his opportunities, playing a strong role in the Victorians' eventual silver medal-winning effort.
Cowling was one of two Bendigonians playing in Adelaide to return from the championships with a medal.
Young Will Whiteacre won gold with the Victorian 17-and-under boys team, which defeated Southern Dragons (SA) 60-43 in the grand final and went through the tournament undefeated.
The versatile 13-year-old, who plays with South Bendigo Junior Netball Club on Friday nights and is this year playing in the Junior M League in Melbourne, has been named as a training partner in the Australian men's 17-and-under team.
The open men's team lost to a dominant New South Wales 67-41.
Hard hit with injuries throughout the tournament, Victoria won six of eight minor round matches, highlighted by an early win over its grand final rival.
The Vics fell 67-44 to the Blues in the qualifying final, but set up a rematch in the grand final by defeating West Coast (WA) 54-42 in the preliminary final.
While they were no match for the dominance of the Blues, in particular, their 208cm goal shooter Patrick Piliae, Cowling said the Vics were well pleased with their performances.
"It was still amazing to make the grand final. We had a number of bad injuries throughout the week, so we were pretty stoked to be there on the final day," he said.
"Unfortunately we just weren't good enough, New South Wales were just too strong.
"They are an extremely good side and fully deserved their win.
"It was a big week, with pretty much two full games a day ... especially considering we haven't done it for three years.
"Day one and day two, we were feeling it pretty quickly."
Finally getting his chance at the open level of nationals after a three-year wait, Cowling was 'reasonably happy' with his own form and rapt for the experience.
"I was really excited, but being my first year playing in the open championships, I didn't expect to get too much court time," he said.
"But there was an injury to our starting goal attack Brodie Roberts, who tore his calf really badly, and that opened the opportunity for me to play most of the week.
"So there was a lot of game time and a lot of exposure against the open competition, which should set me up for next year."
With the championships done and dusted and his playing commitments not set to resume until the start of the M League season in September, Cowling will be back on deck on the sidelines this week for Kangaroo Flat, which faces a top-of-the-table clash this Saturday against Sandhurst.
Being my first year playing in the open championships, I didn't expect to get too much court time.- Jayden Cowling
The 2.30 pm match at the QEO will pit the league's only two undefeated teams against each other.
They were also rivals in the last A-grade grand final played in 2019.
Roos coach Cowling said he was proud to see his side rack up two huge wins in his absence against Golden Square (88-19) and Eaglehawk (80-22).
The Roos are averaging 78 goals per game through the first three matches of the season, while Sandhurst is averaging 66.5.
"Nic Donnellon has done an amazing job of coaching the girls the last two weeks - it's going to be a huge one this week," Cowling said.
"We're always excited to play Sandhurst, it's always a great game and we tend to match up well on each other.
"We're hoping for a tough game and also hoping to come away with the points."
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