NETBALL NSW Premier League franchise South Coast Blaze has announced it opens and under 23s squads for the 2021 season, with the former featuring two Shoalhaven products Elecia Parrott and Shelby Mallon.
In this year's opens line-up, the Blaze welcomes back former Super Netball players Taylah Davies and Kristina Brice, with decorated Silver Fern and former Swift Kayla Johnson (nee Cullen) joining after having a year off to have her first child.
Young-gun Tegan Holland has also entered the team, moving from Sutherland Stingrays, while Dennis Napara has returned as an assistant coach.
"Our opens team remains relatively the same dynamic side with the exception of two new exciting faces, Kayla and Tegan - bringing strength, depth in experience and knowledge to our defensive side, complementing the team roster," said opens head coach Marji Parr.
"We have been working extremely hard building cohesion and learning each other's strengths and what drives us all through the pre-season, on and off the court.
"2021 takes us into our second year of NSW Premier League competition and we obviously are keen to progress on last year's ranking.
"We also are extremely looking forward to playing exciting and competitive matches back in front of live crowds."
The under 23s team, who finished their inaugural season as runners up, also have two new players.
Up and coming player and Illawarra local Gabby Eaton, who was picked up from Blaze's Talent Identification Program (TIP), and former Manly Warringah Sapphires player and Camden local Mackenzie Farrow have joined the 14-strong squad - with Shoalhaven's Emma Keane named as a training partner.
2020 captain Clare McCrohon and defenders Ashleigh Selwyn and Bilyana Milevski out for the season with injury.
Jennie Webster OAM has also come on board as an assistant coach, bringing a wealth of experience from coaching Premier League and representative teams.
"This year sees a lot of the athletes returning for another season in the Blaze under 23s," said under 23s head coach Regan Tweddle.
"Some athletes have been elevated from training partners, and also from TIP, in 2020 to contracted athletes in 2021 - which is great to see and excellent news for those in the Blaze netball pathway.
"We are expecting a tough year of netball week in, week out in Premier League and all athletes in the under 23s squad are working extremely hard both on and off the courts to rise to the next level."
In other news, following on from the Blaze's successful inaugural season in 2020, Campbelltown District Netball Association (CDNA) has signed on as a new member association in 2021, joining founding members Illawarra District Netball Association, Kiama Netball Association and Shoalhaven Netball Association.
Through this partnership, South Coast Blaze will expand its reach into South Western Sydney, offering even more netball players an elite pathway opportunity.
"It's great to see South Coast Blaze continue to grow and bring onboard new partners like CDNA, which strongly believes in our mission to grow netball and provide an elite pathway, said South Coast Blaze chair Karina Franke.
"When we originally set up Blaze we had plans to eventually move into Southern Sydney and down to the Far South Coast, so we are thrilled that we have been able to secure interest and have CDNA join in only our second year."
Campbelltown District Netball Association president Justin Rea is also excited to join Blaze in its second season.
"Campbelltown District Netball Association adopted its name in September 1972 and, since that time, has hosted state championship events 17 times, more than any other district," Rea said.
"In 2014, we had both seniors and juniors at Campbelltown.
"However, as we did not have a direct elite pathway for our netballers, we have lost talented players to other districts.
"We are therefore excited to rectify this situation by joining with South Coast Blaze and to work alongside Illawarra, Kiama and Shoalhaven Netball Associations.
"We look forward to taking advantage of the opportunities offered to our players, coaches and umpires through the Blaze Premier League programs."
The Netball NSW Premier League season will begin with round one held on Wednesday, April 7, at Netball Central in Sydney Olympic Park.
The season will run for 18 rounds, finishing in August with the semi-finals, preliminary finals and grand finals.