THE Stars are here.
The Gippsland Stars had their first-ever practice match last Sunday at the Jubilee Park Stadium in Frankston.
The Stars proudly took to a Victorian Netball League court adorned with blue and red for the first time at the Peninsula Waves facilitated event.
Getting ready for their inaugural season, the Stars were prepared to practice what they’ve been working on all preseason long against Tooradin’s open combined side and the Waves’ VNL team.
Both the 23 and Under and 19 and Under sides played two matches each, showcasing the very best of Gippsland’s exceptional talent.
Coach of the Under 19s, Roger Palmer oversaw the day’s games as temporary head coach and was impressed with the level of fight the Gippslanders showed.
“We’re very happy indeed – from the Under 23’s point of view. We worked a number of different combinations and a couple of different positions for some certain players and that really came off,” he said.
“I’m happy with the connection across the board with all the players and their attitude – I think they were engaged from the start. You can tell when a team is on when their warm-up is pretty sharp, and I think that’s what we saw.
“I think they were excited to get out and represent Gippsland for the first time in their first official hit-out.”
The Under 23s had no trouble getting through the open Tooradin team in the first match, and brought that competitiveness into their match against the Pen Waves.
Despite not coming home with the win, the team showed an ability to perform among the best netballers of the Mornington Peninsula.
The Stars featured a few Gippsland League familiar faces, including 2023 A Grade premiership-winner Hollie Bugeja from Moe.
Traralgon’s Sophie Lecchino was a sharpshooter on Sunday, working in the ring with the powerful Myah Healey.
Morwell’s Chloe Radford played the midcourt smoothly with Bugeja using speed to facilitate smooth transition down the court.
Fellow Morwell gun Anna Solomon was magic in the defensive end, using her aerial ability to pick off passes left, right, and centre.
Bairnsdale’s Alison Dwyer received a special mention as a quiet achiever who did great in defence.
“I think because we had a solid effort across, we saw those players play all at a higher level … so quite impressed with all of (them),” Palmer said.
Unfortunately, the Stars were without Moe’s Charlize Bird and Bairnsdale’s Paris Dunkley, who sat out of the practice match due to injury.
The development squad also had a good run, with both games going down to the wire.
The Under 19s were also working through different combinations and positions on the court but continued to smash expectations.
“There are always things that are going to come up out of these practice matches to work on, but to see them on the court and come up with those first-up efforts, we’re very proud and excited,” Palmer said.
The Stars looked to have had an exceptional preseason, with the young women fit as ever and ready to take on the best teams in the state.
Despite never taking the court for the same team, Palmer said the young women in both sides showed a lot of promises and improvement since the club’s inception.
“It’s exciting coming off our first-ever hit out for us – I think that there’ll be a lot of eyes on our team, and look, I think we’ll do well. You can only have high hopes for what you’ve got, the team you’ve put together,” he said.
The 2024 VNL season isn’t too far away, with the opening round on March 6.
The Stars will take on North East Blaze at the State Hockey Netball Centre.
Palmer said the Gippsland girls are eager to get the season underway, wanting to show all of Victoria how good the region’s talent truly is.
“All the players are on board, engaged, and want to see us do well, but we are well aware that we’re going up against well-established VNL teams,” he said.
“We’ll find our feet early and hopefully come away with some good results.
Many people might ask why a practice match might be so important, and that’s because this is another first milestone moment for this club, with many people working hard for many years to establish a netball excellence team for the region.
“You can’t help but get excited about the VNL program in Gippsland and what it’s going to do for the region not only that, but all the support there and all the key people involved … have all been working pretty hard behind the scenes and I think they would be quite proud and come home with big smiles on their faces because we’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Palmer said.
The Stars are planning another practice match before the start of the VNL season.