Restructured Berger Elite League starts today
Champions of the past two seasons, St Ann Orchids and Clarendon Gaters, will be involved in a shoot-out when the fourth staging of the Berger Elite League (BEL) begins at the home of netball, Leila Robinson Courts, this afternoon.
Six teams are contesting the championship and each will play each other twice in the preliminary stage that is set to run until December 30. All games will be played at the Leila Robinson Courts in this stage, with action set to shift to the National Indoor Sports Centre (NISC) play-offs in the semi-finals and finals.
An opening ceremony, set to begin at 5:30 p.m., will precede the big matchup, which pits some of the game's best players in the country against each other.
The Orchids crowned themselves winners of the competition last year with a win over Kingston Hummingbirds in the final, while the Gaters shot their way to the title the previous year.
Dalton Hinds, coach of the latter, hopes they will triumph as in 2015.
"All things being equal I'd love for Clarendon Gaters to win the Berger Elite League this season," he said.
Orchids assistant coach Shawn Murdock, in the meanwhile, says it will take more work to retain their crown.
"Defending champions is just a tag, we're not going to get caught up in the tag line. It's basically a new team that the Orchids will be having this year so we'll have to do all that we did last year, plus more, to defend the title," he pointed out. The tag will not get us to the finals, we've to work to get there by being smart in attack and clinical in defence."
A new format of selection was introduced this year that has contributed to greater balance among the teams, with players selected from a raffle. It meant many players are no longer representing the teams they did last year, plus the selections point to more competitive games.
The coaches expressed mixed views on the change in format.
"I disagree with the change of format. I thought the format that was there before of returning one-third of the players to the pool would have been a good," said Murdock.
Hinds believes it has created equal opportunity.
He said: "First and foremost, it's a privilege again to be coaching Clarendon Gaters in the 2017-18 Berger Elite League. We've had a new lottery and therefore for all six teams, the chance is as good as any to win this year.
Jamaica players Thristina Harwood, Adean Thomas, Vangelee Williams, Stacian Facey and Rebekah Robinson number among the star cast looking to bloom for the Orchids.
Not to be outdone, the Gaters have their fair share of star quality in nationals Zonasha Hinds, Althea Byfield and Kerry-Ann Brown.