THEY might have to wait an extra week to finally taste NAB League Girls action for the first time in 11 months, but the Dandenong Stingrays will be ready to go when it happens.
The Stingrays have a Round 1 bye this weekend, then host Sandringham Dragons at Frankston Park on Saturday, February 13 from 11am. For new coach Nick Cox – who has previously taken the reins at the boys – it was an exciting time, and the team would be ready for the first bounce.
“They’re excited about it obviously,” Cox said. “We’re lucky we’ve got Round 1 off, we’ve got a bye so we’ll get a few extra training sessions into them, but they’re really enthusiastic in the game sim stuff that we’re able to do. “But we’re looking forward to the games and seeing how they go there. Their enthusiasm there is another level to the boys that I’ve seen, so I can’t wait to see what they can produce.”
For Cox the role is one that is not too dissimilar to when he coached the boys’ side, and now it is about juggling and adapting both of the Stingrays’ elite junior squads.
“I was thinking about it over the weekend, last weekend after our first week at training,” Cox said. “It’s going to be a lot different but I’m actually excited and can’t wait for it. “I know every coach will say that, but just the dynamics of being back in a box and coaching gameday will be something that’s been missed by us all, but thank goodness that our country at least is getting back to some sort of normality, so it’s going to be exciting.”
The last 12 months have been challenging for every club, and the Stingrays are not immune to that. Cox said the onus was put on the players to ensure they were ready to hit the ground running once the group training returned following the lifting of lockdown protocols.
“There was a fair bit put back on the girls over the break to make sure they follow their program,” Cox said. “At the end of the day, the ones who make it are the ones who have intrinsic motivation and come back after doing it all themselves. “The difference is we’re doing a lot of things differently, education via Zoom calls, that kind of stuff, so we can get as much training into them when we see them. “It’s been different, but we have to work with it. “Everyone’s in the same boat so we’ve got to try and make them better by the time Round 1 comes.”
It might have only been a couple of weeks, but Cox admitted the feeling around the club was buoyant as the players could sense that games were not far away.
“The preseason has been wonderful so far, we haven’t had the girls back in for that long,” he said. “I think it’s been a couple of weeks, so they’ve come back in good condition and obviously follow their programs over the break. “It has been pleasing thus far, the energy and enthusiasm that they’re showing at training.”
Speaking about the 2021 NAB League Girls list, Cox said there were “a lot” of impressive preseason performers.
“I’ve been really impressed with our two 19-year-olds coming back from an AFL/VFLW preseason at St Kilda in Abbey Jordan and Zoe Hill,” he said. “Some of our bottom-agers, Amber Clarke‘s been exceptional, and probably one to continue to watch. “Emily Shepherd, Mac (Mackenzie) Eardley, our top-ager Ash Richards has been great, come back in a really good spot.
“Jaide Anthony who was in the Academy last year, unfortunately didn’t make it this year has come back well, we’ve got some girls who have been quite impressive and we’ve been looking forward to seeing what they can produce in a couple of weeks time.”
Having that balance between the new top-age, middle-age and bottom-age players will make it a juggling act for the clubs, and with Dandenong having talent across all three years, Cox said the team would do its best to try and showcase everyone’s talent.
“Obviously the 18 and 19-year-olds will get more of an opportunity early, but it’s still our role to showcase talent,” he said. “If a 17 year-old is better than an 18-year-old then we’ll put them on the park and get them ready for next year. “But there is a balance to give the 18 girls an opportunity, but if they’re not up to speed it’s like any elite program, others will jump ahead of them. “It will be what it will be.”
As for a style, the Stingrays have enough talent around the ground to provide some impressive and eye-catching ball movement. Cox listed speed and skill as two of the key areas that his squad seemed to be flushed with across the board.
“We’ve got some girls who kick the ball exceptionally well and I think we can utilise that,” he said. We’ve got a little bit of pace, we’ve got a pretty good all-round mix. “But I think the two things would be our speed and our ability to execute really well. “I know that is simplistic, but they are two of the things I’ve been impressed with as a coach thus far in preseason.”