Gippsland secures VNL licence

It's official: Pictured at the VNL announcement was Gippsland League General Manager Daniel Heathcote, board member Jodi Galea, Netball Victoria General Manager of Netball Development Angela Banbury, Eastern Region Manager Judi Buhagiar and Gippsland Netball Participation Coordinator Leanne Bland.



AN amazing opportunity for local aspiring netball stars has landed.

In massive news for local sport, the Gippsland League has just secured a licence to enter a Victorian Netball League (VNL) team.

The team will be named the Gippsland Stars and will join the competition in 2024.

The Gippsland side will first enter the newly-created 23 & Under (23&U) Division, before finalising a championship team for entry in the near future.

Gippsland Stars will primarily base their operations out of Traralgon, adopting the Gippsland Regional Indoor Sports Stadium (GRISS) as their home.

The General Manager of Netball Development at Netball Victoria, Angela Banbury, was excited to announce the Gippsland Stars last Monday, August 21, to a big round of applause.

“It’s part of our Netball Victoria strategic plan to get more regional representation into our state league competition, so the best of the best playing week in, weekout netball,” she said.

The three new clubs are based in parts of the state identified in Netball Victoria’s broader growth strategy.

They will help build the profile and reputation of netball while making the competition more accessible, creating additional opportunities for emerging talent.

“It’s exciting for netball, exciting for our pathways and exciting for the young netballers who are here today – so they can see what it takes to be an elite netballer,” Ms Banbury said.

Gippsland Stars and Bendigo Strikers join the already existing Geelong Cougars in representing regional Victoria’s netball talent.

“It’s fantastic to have the backing of the Gippsland League to create the Gippsland Stars, and we can’t wait to see what they bring to netball,” Ms Banbury added.

Gippsland players have had a strong VNL presence throughout the competition’s history, but even more so today, with 15 registered Gippsland League players playing in various VNL teams and divisions just this year.

The Gippsland League General Manager Daniel Heathcote led the Stars’ application to base a team in the talent-rich region of Gippsland.

“It’s been a long-term goal for a few of us with the league; we’re obviously pretty passionate about netball, and our league has had a long history with (representative) netball in the region,” he said.

The 2023 VNL Championship final between City West Falcons and Boroondara Express featured four current and former Gippsland League players, including 2022 Gippsland League Team of the Year players Taylah Brown and Zali Anderson, 2018 Moe premiership player Bella Hodgson and 2019 Gippsland League best and fairest winner Montana Holmes – who also claimed MVP honours.

Mr Heathcote said a Gippsland VNL team will have flow-on benefits for local sport.

“We think this team will provide a greater opportunity for Gippsland players, umpires, coaches and staff to develop and aspire to follow the Netball Victoria pathways that may not have had the opportunity or been able to continue on due to the logistical commitments of travelling to a Melbourne-based club,” he said.

“It’s something that’s obviously a huge benefit to our league and our clubs being the premier league in the region, but also to the district association and the junior associations in the region.”

Deb Archer, president of Traralgon Netball Association, said a Gippsland VNL team will give junior girls a vision of what they can achieve.

“(Travel) is a barrier for many players’ progression because people don’t have the time or the finances to commit to higher levels of netball,” she said.

Being the president of a junior association, Ms Archer has seen many good players come and go and said that the Gippsland region undoubtedly had the talent to support a VNL team.

“The pathways that it’s going to provide, for players, umpires and administrators, is awesome.”

Traralgon Netball Association found a lack of local umpires after COVID, and of course, you can’t play netball without umpires.

However, Ms Archer explains that she is seeing umpire numbers reinvigorated with some of the Netball Victoria programs.

She also hopes to see further improvements to netball administration as Gippsland becomes a netball hotspot.

Eighteen-year-old Morwell East netballer Sienna Blair recently represented Malta on the world stage and spoke to The Express about the many exciting opportunities the Gippsland VNL team can bring young athletes.

“I think this is an amazing opportunity for our area, so much talent that’s been untouched – it’s just great for the juniors to be able to look up to a team that they want to go play for,” she said.

Having had some experience with the VNL system, Ms Blair knew the many challenges local girls face in attempting to further their netball game.

“I had tried out for Casey’s (development VNL) team, but I didn’t get in … As an under-15, you obviously don’t have a (drivers) licence, and you do have to rely on your parents to take you, and that’s why I never tried out again,” she explained.

“Now, having a team down in our own area will bring a lot of girls to light and show off our talent in our Gippsland area.”

As the VNL expands from 10 to 12 clubs, next year’s new-look competition will reduce from three to two divisions – Championship and 23&U, with teams able to field development sides in other competitions.

As a new program, the Stars will begin the process of employing off-court roles, including coaching and administration.

The Stars will aim to implement these off-court roles to hit the ground running before the October 1 deadline set by Netball Victoria, where all teams can begin player recruitment and trials for the 2024 season.

All roles will be advertised on and via social channels @gippslandstars

Proud: The Gippsland League successfully landed a Victorian Netball League (VNL) licence beginning in 2024. Photographs: Zaida Glibanovic.

Team girls: Netball Victoria aims to make pathways into professional netball more accessible for regional athletes.