THE depth of the region's young netball stocks has been highlighted by the unveiling of the Bendigo Strikers' inaugural VNL 23-and-under squad.
A squad of 12 players and an additional five training partners, to be coached by Jayden Cowling, was revealed on Friday morning.
It comes hot on the heels of last week's announcement of the new VNL club's foundation championship division squad, to be led by coach Tracey Brereton.
The 23-and-under squad comprises players from the length and breadth of the region, stretching from Moama in the north, to Shepparton in the east and Gisborne in the south.
It includes five players, who plied their trade in the BFNL season, led by star Sandhurst centre/wing attack Shae Clifford, who finished runner-up to Kangaroo Flat's Chelsea Sartori in this year's Betty Thompson league medal count, and South Bendigo goal shooter Chloe Langley, who finished fourth.
With Sartori and her Roos teammate Ash Ryan having been selected in the championship squad, four of the top five placegetters in last year's BFNL league best and fairest count will line up in the Strikers' double blue and gold next season.
Clifford and Langley are joined in the squad by star Gisborne premiership goal shooter Torie Skrijel, her Bulldogs teammate Eloise Rodda and Castlemaine's young defensive gun Megan Wilson.
Having previously played in the BFNL, Mia McCrann-Peters, who lined up with Loddon Valley club Marong in 2023, provides a further link to the league.
A talent-laden squad includes two players from Moama, athletic defender Hannah Richards and Abbey Larkin, and three from Goulburn Valley league clubs, teenager Harriet Gall (Shepparton Swans), McKenzie O'Dwyer (Shepparton Bears) and Taylah Lloyd (Mooroopna).
The inclusion of midcourter Grace Hammond gives Tongala a representative in both Strikers squads following the selection of goal shooter Milly Brock in the championship squad.
Mature beyond her years, Hammond this season led Tongala to a Murray league A-grade premiership as the Blues' playing coach.
Impressed by the collection of talent at his disposal, Cowling was excited by the prospect of bringing it all together.
"The group we have been able to select and sign is outstanding," he said.
"It's a really good mix. There's some VNL experience and some quality young talent as well.
"And it's exciting to see so many clubs, leagues and regions across this part of Victoria represented.
"It's really going to showcase what we have in this area.
"I can't wait to get these girls together and really form a cohesive unit.
"In our first year in the VNL, I feel we can really exceed our expectations. I think we are going to be extremely competitive."
More than half of the squad boasts previous VNL experience, among them Sandhurst's Clifford, who played with North East Blaze this season, Langley, a long-time member of City West Falcons' 19-and-under and division one teams, and Gisborne's Skrijel, who previously played for Melbourne University Lightning.
Others with VNL experience include the versatile McCrann-Peters (Melbourne University Lightning), who featured in both attack and defence for Marong this season, Mooroopna's Lloyd (Ariels), Moama's Richards and Shepparton Bears' O'Dwyer (both City West Falcons).
Boasting the likes of Langley and Skrijel, two of the premier goal shooters in the BFNL, and McCrann-Peters, Cowling said the Strikers shaped as particularly potent in attack.
"I think if anyone watched Torie play in the finals this year, you would know exactly what kind of player she can be," he said.
"Getting her back into the VNL is a huge get for us. She needs to and deserves to be playing VNL to take her game to the next level.
"Her and Chloe should set us up well.
"Chloe has a done an amazing job in the Bendigo league and at (City West) Falcons, but to give her the chance to come back to Bendigo to play VNL is exciting.
"We also have Mia McCrann-Peters, who has some nice VNL experience and played some outstanding netball at Marong this year.
"I am really excited about our goaling end."
it's exciting to see so many clubs, leagues and regions across this part of Victoria represented. It's really going to showcase what we have in this area- Strikers 23-and-under coach Jayden Cowling
Cowling extended a welcome to the 23-and-under team's five training partners, which includes two male members, Will Whiteacre and Oliver Ryan.
It follows their recent selection in Victorian teams for next year's national championships, with Whiteacre picked in the 20-and-under team and 16-year-old Ryan in the 17-and-under team.
They are joined by fellow training partners Ella Flavell, who played with Strathfieldsaye in 2023, Jasmin Gallagher (Eaglehawk) and Jorja Clode, from Wimmera league club Horsham Saints.
Cowling, who was also recently selected in the men's state team, said it would be exciting times ahead for those joining the squad as training partners, especially Whiteacre and Ryan.
"These boys are extremely talented and will ensure our match day team is extended during training," he said.
"Men's teams have been regular participants in training programs for Suncorp Super Netball and state teams over the years.
"This is a great initiative to give this opportunity to regional athletes."
Screening and selection for the Strikers team was conducted over three sessions in October.
Pre-season training will continue until December 9 before a break for Christmas.
Strikers president Melinda Keighran said the club was proud to give all 17 players - 12 squad and five training partners - an opportunity to be part of an exciting first season with the club.
"Our 23-and-under coaches, led by Jayden Cowling and Tarryn Rymer, have done of power of work to bring together a quality list of young players to represent Bendigo Strikers in 2024," she said.
"We are so excited to have the ability to provide our best young netball talent with a pathway to the top competition in the state."
"To have players from across our region to come together to train locally and to play in the VNL is so exciting."
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