The newly formed Gippsland Stars, Victorian Netball League club, has announced their key players that will lead them in season 2024.

After a successful try out period, a 15 player squad was selected for the 23 and Under VNL Team and a further 15 young athletes were selected for the Stars Pathway team that will compete in the State Super Netball series.

The renowned Sale Football-Netball Club coach, Jo Ballinger has taken the charge as head coach of the under 23’s for season 2024.

“A prominent Gippsland local, Jo needs no introduction to the Gippsland netball community,” a Gippsland Stars spokesperson said.

“She is the current Gippsland Sports Academy Netball Coach and also has coaching roles with the Gippsland League representative sides and as A Grade and junior coach at Sale Football-Netball Club.”

A wealth of VNL experience in her assistant coaching role with VNL club Hawks, Ballinger will be a key to starting up the Stars netball program.

“I feel honoured and privileged to lead the Gippsland Stars in the programs first season of VNL,” Ballinger said.

“This is such a fantastic opportunity for me and for the athletes in our region to showcase our talents on a larger scale and inspire others Gippslanders to play or coach at a higher level.

“To say I’m excited is an understatement and I can’t wait to get to work with the rest of our amazing team and contribute to further growth on netball in Gippsland.”

Prominent Sale netball coach Jo Ballinger will lead the newly formed Gippsland Stars as head coach next year. Photo: Contributed

If having one of the finest coaches in Gippsland wasn’t enough, Ballinger is joined by another local legend Stacie Gardiner, who will take on the role of assistant coach.

Gardiner has had an extensive career as a VNL Championship player at the Peninsula Waves. The experienced goal attack has a career highlight reel like no other and will be a key to nurturing the success of the team.

Her VNL experience with elite programs and her ability to work with players will be vital to the Stars program in 2024. She has a coach-strong coaching background as a premiership coach in the Gippsland League with Drouin Netball Club and was named the Gippsland League A Grade coach of the year in 2023. Gardiner has also coached and managed open teams in the Victorian Community Championships and a number of open level programs.

“Bringing VNL to Gippsland provides all aspiring netballers the opportunity to be a part of a high performance netball program,” Gardiner said.

“This is a chance to challenge, learn and build a brand that is the Gippsland Stars. As a proud Gippslander, I’m so honoured to be appointed assistant coach and work alongside head coach Jo Ballinger.

“The opportunity to be a part of the Gippsland Stars is exciting, and I can’t wait to get started.”

The Stars have got off to a flying start, signing their first ever players for their first ever team.

Anna Solomon has made history to be the Gippsland Star’s franchises first ever player signing. The athletic Morwell FNC defender has made waves in the competition at just the start of her career. One of the Tigers’ best in the Gippsland League A Grade Grand Final this year and experience in VNL with Casey’s Under 19’s extended squad, Solomon will be a great addition to the side.

Drouin’s Lucy McKellar will join Solomon in the ring. Another proven VNL athlete, McKeller was in the Hawks Under 19 VNL squad, bringing her experience to the side.

Hailing all the way from Bairnsdale to showcase the region’s talent, Alison Dwyer will join the defensive team. Playing in Melb Uni Lightning in the VNL, Dwyer will no doubt be a star playing for her region.

Moe’s A Grade premiership player Hollie Bugeja will also take the court for the Stars, having played for the Ariels, Bugeja will have no trouble at Victoria’s highest standard of netball.

Traralgon shooting star, Sophie Lecchino joins the Stars after a stellar season, shooting 400 goals for the Maroons. Lecchino, like the others, has that VNL experience that will guide her on this next netball chapter.

The young up-and-comer Charlize Traumanis has made Longwarry proud after being selected into the Stars squad. From the Ellinbank District competition, the tall shooter looks to have a bright and promising future in VNL.

Last but certainly not least, Paris Dunkley, that’s right that famous Gippsland name, returns to the local sports scene. Paris joined her netball superstar cousin Lara in Queensland – while she didn’t play for the Firebirds in Super Netball, young Paris was outstanding for the Brisbane South Wildcats and will bring her talent back to the region.

Experienced representative coach Roger Palmer will lead the Gippsland Stars Development team in 2024.

“Roger has a wealth of coaching experience in Gippsland and Melbourne as both a club and representative coach. Roger is the current Under 17 State Titles coach for Gippsland and has a long resume including experience in Association Championships, Gippsland Storm and State Titles teams,” the Stars posted.

“We are excited to have Roger join the Gippsland Stars in 2024 to help develop our future VNL.”

The Gippsland Stars will compete in the Victorian Netball League next year. Photo: Gippsland League

In a landmark moment for netball in Gippsland, the Gippsland League secured the licence to operate a team in the VNL.

The Gippsland Stars will join the competition from 2024 in the newly created 23 & Under division before entering both the Championship and 23 & Under divisions in future seasons.

“We’re excited to welcome the Gippsland Stars to the Victorian Netball League in 2024,” Netball Victoria Performance Competitions Manager Stacey O’Neill said.

“The Stars’ inclusion will mean more opportunities for talented athletes, coaches and officials from across the Gippsland region. We know Gippsland is a passionate netball heartland, and we’re looking forward to working with the club to ensure our competition is even stronger and more exciting in 2024 and beyond.”