BFNL open netball representative coach Jayden Cowling says he is immensely proud of his team, despite just coming up short of a title win at the Netball Victoria Association Championships.
Played last Sunday in Melbourne, the BFNL lost a thrilling grand final against Goulburn Valley 14-18.
The BFNL lost just two of nine matches played for the day, both against Goulburn Valley, which made it back-to-back Association Championship victories following its triumph in 2019.
The margin in their minor round match was three goals.
After winning six of its seven minor round matches reasonably comfortably, the BFNL made it through to the grand final with a 16-8 win over Hampden.
Goulburn Valley defeated Ovens and Murray 16-11 in the other semi-final.
Cowling hailed a terrific performance from the 10 players, who took to the court on Sunday across a series of games comprising two nine-minute halves.
"We were stoked to make the grand final. Our expectation at the start of the day was to hopefully get to the end and we got to the end," he said.
"It was an awesome achievement. It was a pretty massive day, the girls hadn't played in an open-age tournament for a few years and they were feeling it by the end.
"It was nine games in total - pretty stop-start - so it's a massive load. I'm sure there's still a few sore bodies this week."
The BFNL was forced to make a couple of changes in the lead-up to Sunday, with Sandhurst's Meg Williams ruled out with an ankle injury and Gisborne goal attack Claudia Mawson unavailable due to Victorian Fury commitments.
The squad suffered another blow with in-form Kangaroo Flat wing defence Milly Wicks unable to take part after injuring her ankle in the Roos' win over Kyneton on Saturday.
Cowling praised the three players who earned a call-up to the squad in the week before the tournament, Gisborne's Kirby Elliott and South Bendigo's Chloe Langley and Chloe Gray.
"To be honest, all 10 players really stood up for us," he said.
"I thought Maddy Stewart was outstanding and kept us in a lot of games.
"We had a pretty tough run in the middle of the day against Ovens and Murray and Goulburn Valley, but she really led the way.
"And Sophie Shoebridge was probably the most consistent (player) all day. She had a hell of a lot of game time but was outstanding in defence.
"Her combining with Ruby Turner was a highlight and Kirby Elliott, from Gisborne, provided a real x-factor at wing defence."
Cowling gave full credit to an experienced and strong across-the-board Goulburn Valley for its victory.
"They brought a real physicality the two times we played and, like us, had a lot of VNL experience and were a great side," he said.
"It was goal-for-goal early on, but a few turnovers just turned it their way.
"It was just great to be exposed to that high-level netball and it definitely showed we are still one of the top two or three leagues in the state."
The BFNL has reached the final in each of its last four Association Championships campaigns, winning in 2017 and finishing runner-up in 2016, 2018 and now 2022.
The league did not contest the championships in 2019 and no tournament was held in 2020 or 2021 due to COVID.
Meanwhile, the BFNL's 17-and-under team finished a gruelling schedule of 11 matches with a 2-8-1 record, with a pair of the losses coming by two goals or less.
The BFNL defeated Sunraysia 11-9 and Albury 11-10 and drew with North Gippsland 11-11.
Hampden defeated Banyule and Districts 14-11 in the grand final.
The Bendigo Strathdale Netball Association ended its 15-and-under campaign with a 3-8 record, with wins coming against Gippsland (18-9), Albury (14-8) and Goulburn Valley (12-11).
Banyule and Districts was crowned champions following a 16-11 grand final win over St Albans-Caroline Springs.
BFNL open team minor round results: d Murray Netball League 21-8; d Western Region 23-10; d Sandringham District 29-7; d Ovens and Murray 21-12; d Hampden 17-12; lt Goulburn Valley 16-19; d Outer East 20-8.
Semi-final: d Hampden 16-8.
Grand final: lt Goulburn Valley 14-18.
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