TRYING to justify the best Warrnambool and District league netball side of the past decade is a tough task.
But there's genuine reason for Nirranda's class of 2021 to lay claim to that title.
Dominant, ruthless and driven with an uncanny ability to overcome a myriad of challenges thrown their way, the Blues' most recent campaign was a rollercoaster ride.
Thwarted by COVID-19 restrictions, which hampered the natural momentum of the season, several season-ending injuries and a well-skilled pack of chasing rivals, Nirranda overcame it all. It didn't get the chance to compete for its second premiership in five seasons but if you fancied a tip, the Blues would've been an odds-on favourite.
Let's break it down. The Blues' boasted the best percentage of any Warrnambool and District league netball outfit in recorded recent history, the past eight seasons to be exact. It stood at 211.3 after 13 rounds. That bettered its phenomenal 209.7 effort in 2018.
It's our bond off the court. If someone is having a bad day, it won't just be one person but it'll be the whole team trying to get around them and rally around them.Steph Townsend
To show how big a feat that was, no other team in the past eight years had managed more than 200 percentage points. The Blues' average score of 61.7 goals and average conceded of just 29 goals contributed heavily to that result.
Moving on to playing personnel. Often coaches say injuries are no excuse for poor form but if Nirranda dipped on the back of their wounded warriors, it would've been perfectly understandable.
Lisa Couch, one of the competition's premier wing attacks, missed a chunk of the campaign through a ruptured Achilles tendon.
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Talented defender Cloe Marr, who crossed to the club from Timboon Demons a couple of seasons ago, was also out for more than half of the season.
It speaks to Nirranda's depth that it was able to continue its all-conquering form despite these two big blows.
Steph Townsend was at the core of it and will be again heading into 2022.
The playing coach was in fine form for her fifth season as a Blue, taking out the Wilma Wallace Medal, while teammate Jo Couch was runner-up.
"I think what sets us apart this season was just how much we've gotten around each other," Townsend said.
"It's our bond off the court. If someone is having a bad day, it won't just be one person but it'll be the whole team trying to get around them and rally around them.
"I think we've been an incredibly honest side with each other and I guess that comes down to how well respected everyone is within the side and I think that's probably what has set us apart.
Townsend said the current Nirranda outfit was among the most talented she'd worked with.
"In terms of ability, this is definitely the most talented side we've had," she said.
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While Townsend's Nirranda side of 2021 is arguably the best of the past 10 seasons, how it evolves under Lisa Arundell in 2022 will be fascinating to watch.
Arundell was unveiled as the Blues' new leader on Friday in a major coup for the Great Ocean Road-based outfit.
The multiple business owner, who operates Arun Dell Home and Style in Hamilton, wedding venue Arun Dell On The Hill and an AirBnB accommodation, said she hoped to unlock another level for the side to reach.
For Arundell, who worked as a mentor to Nirranda's coaches in 2021, taking the top job was a "natural fit".
Her coaching style - which has a heavy emphasis on discipline, respect for the game, umpires and opponents - is similar to Townsend and she is confident of building upon the foundations already in place.
As good as they were this season - it's scary to think it could go up again in 2022. Just how good could this side be?
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