BFNL open netball coach Jayden Cowling says the team will be doing everything in its power to deliver title success at this weekend's Netball Victoria Association Championships.
The Bendigo league will be making its first appearance at the tournament since finishing runners-up to Geelong in 2018.
There were no championships held in either 2020 or 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the BFNL did not compete in 2019 after its victorious inter-league team from earlier that season was heavily impacted by player unavailability around championships time.
Cowling, who was an assistant to head coach Tamara Gilchrist during the 2018 campaign, is stoked to see the BFNL back at the championships.
Bendigo, which last won the open division in 2017 under Gilchrist's coaching, will start as one of the favourites to take out the crown as the state's premier league or association.
A star-studded and potent squad, easily one of the best the league has assembled, is dominated by players with VNL or even higher-level experience.
Selectors have been forced to make a few changes to the initial squad of 10 following star Gisborne goal attack Claudia Mawson's selection in the Victorian Fury squad and an ankle injury to Sandhurst skipper Meg Williams.
Into the squad come South Bendigo sharpshooter Chloe Langley as cover for Mawson, Bloods team-mate and midcourter Chloe Gray and skilful Gisborne defender Kirby Elliott.
Gray and Elliott are both newcomers to the Bendigo league in 2022.
Fresh from a big win on Saturday over Sandhurst with his Kangaroo Flat team, Cowling say there's no reason for the BFNL to not be setting its sights high in Melbourne.
"I am super-stoked with this squad - the fact that all these players made themselves available is awesome," he said.
"With the high-calibre of players we have, I reckon it's one of the best Bendigo league teams we have seen.
"There's not only a huge array of VNL championship division experience but (initially) Vic Fury athletes like Claudia Mawson.
"I'm excited to get the opportunity to coach this team, it's not every day you get to coach a bunch of the best netballers in this league.
"I'm sure they are just excited about getting the chance to play together and represent their league. It's been a while since they have been able to play rep netball.
"They will love coming up against some fellow VNL players and some really tough opposition from across Victoria.
"Our expectation is, we want to win, but enjoy the moment as well."
Commitments with their VNL clubs during the week have prevented the squad from training together, but Cowling is confident that won't be a drawback to success.
"They're an amazing group of players, so I'm sure they will slot straight in on Sunday," he said.
"They know what they are doing and have to do.
"We're generally very competitive in the Association Championships, so that will be a goal again.
"It's not often you get to see our league's best midcourters playing alongside one another, and the same in goals and defence, so it's a real thrill for the girls."
Ladder leaders Kangaroo Flat will be represented by Chelsea Sartori, Milly Wicks and Abbey and Ashley Ryan, while Sophie Shoebridge, Bec Smith and Ruby Turner are Sandhurst's inclusions.
No BFNL team would be complete or as competitive without star Gisborne defender Maddy Stewart, the likely captain in Melbourne, who is enjoying top seasons with the Bulldogs and her VNL club Melbourne University Lightning.
The squad is rounded out by Stewart's Bulldogs team-mate Elliott and fellow new inclusions Langley and Gray (South Bendigo).
In an endorsement for the league as a whole, Cowling said the strength of the Bendigo squad was equally as reflective in the depth of playing talent that missed selection.
"There are so many players who have missed out - and not only that - every team has standout players," he said.
"But we are lucky those VNL championship players have made themselves available.
"(Wing defence) Milly Wicks is the only one not to play VNL before, but she is having an outstanding season and can play pretty much every position on the court - goals, midcourt and defence.
"She really gives us that versatility we need in a tournament situation."
With the high-calibre of players we have, I reckon it's one of the best Bendigo league teams we have seen.- Jayden Cowling
The Association Championships will be played Sunday at the State Netball Centre in Parkville.
The BFNL will be aiming for its second open title since the inception of the championships in 2000.
The league has finished runner-up twice in 2016 and 2018.
Bendigo will be further represented in the 17-and-under division by the BFNL and in the 15-and-under division by the Bendigo Strathdale Netball Association.
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