BFNL 17-and-under netball representative team joint coach Nicole Donnellon says the squad is gelling at the right time, as they prepare for battle at the Netball Victoria Association Championships.
The battle for supremacy among the state's best league or association-based teams will be staged this Sunday at the State Netball Centre in Parkville.
The BFNL will be represented at both open and 17-and-under level, with Donnellon and Sharni McPherson charged with guiding the fortunes of the league's under-age team.
Bendigo will be further represented in the 15-and-under division by the Bendigo Strathdale Netball Association.
The BFNL won its way through to the finals in Melbourne with a top-two finish at last month's regional qualifiers in Bendigo.
It was the culmination of weeks of steady improvement through two previous tournaments in Bendigo and Echuca.
Donnellon said the BFNL girls had grown as a team and as people in their few months together and were ready to give the championships a red-hot crack.
"As a team, when you look back at the first training session we had way back when, they were quiet kids ... didn't really talk to each other much," she said.
"Now they are all bonding and gelling and having a laugh together. It's a completely different feel.
"It's a really good team atmosphere.
"Expectations are to go down and be as competitive as we can be.
"There are some really big units we will come up against; height-wise we are a bit on the short side compared to them.
"But we'll just keep working on and fine-tuning things and most importantly make sure the girls enjoy the experience.
"They've had two years without being able to compete at this level, so it will be really good for them."
Announced in April, the squad suffered an early blow, losing Gisborne star Olivia Murray with a season-ending ACL injury, sustained in the lead-up tournament in Echuca.
Donnellon said Murray, who was named as captain, had still been as involved as possible and a tremendous influence on the squad.
"Liv has been fantastic and keen to be around the squad as much as she can," she said.
"The girls are all keeping in contact with her and giving her as much support as possible, which has been great."
In her absence, South Bendigo's Maggie Burke has taken over as captain, with Gisborne's Emily McDonald as vice-captain.
The BFNL team has lost only two games on the road to the finals, beaten by Sunraysia in the final at Echuca in extra time and by the same team by one goal in the rounds of the regional qualifiers in June in Bendigo.
By the time the championships are done and dusted on Sunday afternoon, Donnellon and McPherson will have utilised 14 players across their campaign.
Donnellon said her team was looking forward to having another crack at Sunraysia, after the teams were due to play in the grand final of the regional qualifiers before the decision was made to cancel the match due to the weather.
As the top two teams in the qualifiers, both had already booked their spot for the finals in Melbourne.
"We are getting there against Sunraysia - we have beaten them," Donnellon said.
"We beat them in the preliminary rounds at Echuca, but lost the final.
"So we're looking forward to facing them. But it will be vastly different playing mostly different teams to what we've faced before, but that's another thing to look forward to.
"We've achieved what we wanted to do by qualifying for Melbourne, anything above that is a big bonus really.
"We're most looking forward to the girls getting the experience of playing at such a high level. It will be an eye-opener."
The BFNL has experienced success twice before at the championships at 17-and-under level, winning in 2010 and 2015, and was runner-up in 2008.
The 2015 championship-winning team included two members of the current BFNL open squad, Milly Wicks (Kangaroo Flat) and Meg Williams (Sandhurst), as well current Melbourne Vixens squad member Ruby Barkmeyer.
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