JOINT coach Alex Ingram says the Bendigo Strathdale Netball Association's 15-and-under squad has 'come a long way' in a relatively short time and is now ready to test itself against the state's best.
The BSNA team is one of three from Bendigo to qualify for this Sunday's Association Championships finals in Melbourne.
The Bendigo Football Netball League has teams eyeing title success in the open and 17-and-under divisions.
Despite some absences along the way from training since booking their place in the finals with a top-two finish at the region qualifiers in Bendigo last month, Ingram and co-coach Belinda Pinner have been rapt with their girls' preparation and commitment.
It's been a fine balancing act by the coaches and their players to make it this far.
"Because of COVID over the last few years, the girls haven't played a lot, but in the last six months we've found that they are playing two and three games a week and are training a lot more than they have been," Ingram said.
"We've been trying to manage them to make sure that come finals time they are fresh. What we don't need is injuries.
"But they are looking good and they are feeling confident, which is what we want."
The BSNA will take plenty of good form into the championships following a swag of wins and just two losses in three lead-up tournaments, two of them played in Bendigo and one in Echuca.
Rematches against Ballarat, which defeated the BSNA in the semi-finals of their opening tournament in Bendigo, and Wimmera, which also holds a win over BSNA, will be among the most keenly contested on Sunday.
"With these tournaments, anything can happen on the day," Ingram said.
"Our squad is very strong and there's plenty of depth and versatility throughout the squad.
"Belinda and I are rapt from where they have come from - from what we started with to what we have now.
"They have come a long way from those early losses, in fact it was a blessing in disguise that we lost those games.
"As soon as they lost, we had so much more to work through."
The BSNA missed an early chance for revenge on the Wimmera, with the pair scheduled to clash in the grand final in the regional qualifiers before the weather intervened.
The squad could not have been more impressive than in its 13-3 semi-final win over the North Central Netball Association that ultimately sealed its finals place.
Ingram said the squad had benefited from early practice match hit outs against Sandhurst and Golden Square's 17-and-under teams.
Selected by their team-mates, the BSNA will be captained by Neve Pinner, with fellow midcourter Jaida Raco as vice-captain.
A talented 10-player squad comprises Pinner, Raco, Charlie Coghill, Claire McGee, Emma Keating, Harriett Whiteacre, Lila Kelly, Lilly Hope, Lucy Paton and Keira McQueen.
The finals tournament is being played at the State Netball Centre in Parkville.
The BSNA, then competing as the Strathdale Netball Association, registered its best finish at the championships at 15-and-under level in 2000, when runners-up to Kingston and District.
The association was runner-up in the 13-and-under division in 2012 and was a finalist in 2018.
No championships were played in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID.
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