Benalla Saints Youth Girls will be determined to go one step further this weekend after their emphatic win against Seymour on Sunday set up a rematch of last year’s preliminary final against Shepparton United.
The Saints lost that fateful match against the Demons by 16 points, just missing out on a shot at the premiership title.
Following the result, Shepparton United went on to lose the grand final to Finley, but spurred by the disappointment, has been undefeated this year and convincingly beat the Saints earlier in the season.
But Benalla, in comparison, is also on the up, improving on its fifth-placed finish from last season to secure third and a double chance in finals.
For Saints coach Daniel Preston the philosophy this season has been simple.
Always try to be better than the time before.
It’s especially evident in a team that only holds one top-ager, with most of its line up made up of 14 and 15-year-olds, while there is also a broad spectrum of players, with some looking at football as a serious talent path, while several girls are coming in for their first season and “just love playing football'', Preston said.
It’s meant that Preston, who has more than a decade of coaching experience and also leads the Murray Bushrangers this season, has emphasised fun and learning during matches, with certain goals established from the outset, including using players in different positions, while every girl has been tasked with kicking a goal.
“They’ve all played in every position, well, except the shorter girls haven’t gone in the ruck,” he said with a laugh.
It was this mentality the Saints took into their match against Seymour on Sunday.
With the Lions unfortunately feeling the effects of injuries, with three players, including captain and Victorian representative Sophie Locke, omitted from the line up prior to the match, the Saints had a surplus of players.
But Preston endeavoured to make sure all his charges had ample game time, with the Saints combining to slot two goals a quarter to comfortably run out 36-point winners.
The Saints have had a number of players who have led the way this season, with several of those girls named in the best against Seymour.
State representative Keeley Skepper was judged best-on-ground, while Tayissa Gray slotted five goals for the Saints.
“[Tayissa] comes from a basketball background. She can take a good mark," Preston said.
“And she’s quite selfless too — she always looks to give it off to a teammate."
Another who has had a consistent season has been Samantha Pritchard.
“Sam’s a quality person,” Preston said.
“I use her as a reference point. She’s the trade mark of hard work.”
Pritchard is in her first season back after an ACL injury relegated her to the sidelines for 12 months, but it’s the extras she does at training that has had her dominate through the middle this season.
“She’s had a solid return and has set herself up for next season,” Preston said.
And Madison Cronin also starred, who, along with a number of players, commits to travelling from Mansfield to play for the Saints.
“Maddy is one of our youngest players and holds a key position at centre half-back,” Preston said.
“She’s strong and switched on.”
Ahead of Sunday’s preliminary final, Preston said he would be emphasising a number of themes in the lead up to the day.
“Work rate, effort and energy,” he said.
“And a lot of time it also comes down to self-belief and confidence.
“When they apply that, things turn in their favour.
“These girls are quite talented. They kick as good as the boys.
“They should know they’ve earned the right to be in the preliminary final.”
Semi-final score: Benalla Saints 9.9 (63) def Seymour 3.9 (27)
Goals: T. Gray 5, K. Skepper 2, I. Symes, M. Gray
Best Players: K. Skepper, M. Cronin, T. Gray, L. Thomas, M. Foubister, S. Pritchard
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