Lakers move the goal posts for what netball success looks like

By Meg Saultry

Nagambie, who has had a stranglehold of the Kyabram District Netball League for more than half a decade fell short of an unprecedented fifth grand final appearance and a chance to compete for a three-peat after its preliminary final loss to Dookie United on Saturday.

But in what was something of a rebuilding season for the Lakers, it meant the successful club looked to develop in a variety of new ways.

“Yes it was disappointing to lose the prelim, but part of our aim this year was we moved the goal posts on success,” Nagambie co-coach Sarah Sanderson said.

“A-grade has had a lot of success on grand final day in the past.

“But we needed an opportunity for younger players to get A-grade experience.

“We found Madeline Moore and Keeley Woosnam, who long term are locals who can play A-grade.

Alongside Moore, Keeley Woosnam was another youngster to claim a regular A-grade spot.

As arguably the most dominant netball dynasty in the league, Nagambie won premiership flags in 2015, 2017 and 2018, while also contesting the decider in 2016 before falling six goals short of local rivals Avenel.

This season saw a changing of the guard in leadership and on-court talent, with Sanderson joining Bianca Willis at the helm as co-coach, while youngsters such as Moore and Woosnam, and multiple under-17 debutants, stepped up to fill the void of several departing players.

In the face of such transition, the squad still made it all the way to a preliminary final, finishing fourth in the home and away season before beating Murchison-Toolamba and Tallygaroopna in the first two rounds of finals.

And after a brilliant start to Saturday’s preliminary final, where Nagambie went eight goals up at quarter time, their season ultimately came to an end as Dookie United - who beat the Lakers in both occasions this season - stormed home for the win.

Bianca Willis was again on fire in the Lakers preliminary final loss to Dookie, shooting the majority of the Lakers 38 goals.

“Obviously a good start was our focus,” Sanderson said.

“But I felt towards the end of the second quarter, unforced errors and fatigue set in.

“Dookie were coming strong, so we got fresh legs in for the second half.

“But that last quarter, they had a good start and were able to peg back those couple of goals."

Sanderson's counterpart, Willis, was arguably the linchpin in Nagambie’s offense, shooting 29 of the team's 38 goals, after coming back into the squad midway through the season following a knee reconstruction.

“As I’ve said before, I feel like in our last month, Bianca’s gotten back to her best,” Sanderson said.

“Her strength is her accuracy. There wasn’t many she missed.”

And despite clocking a season that finished one week early, the shake up and continual development of the Lakers squad could prove a major win for the club's long term success as they look to 2020 and beyond.

"Obviously you're looking at winning (the) premiership and we didn’t," Sanderson said.

"But we did achieve some things.

“It’s a bright future."