It had been four years since Beaufort qualified for Central Highlands Netball League finals, but 2021 presented a new-look Crows side that made an immediate impact on the competition.
After a fourth-placed finish in 2017 and a semi-final appearance, the Crows finished 13th in 2018 and 14th in 2019 before the COVID-19 affected 2020 season.
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So, when Beaufort started 2021 4-0, one win better than its entire 2019 campaign, there was more than hope for optimism, there was a hunger to make finals.
"We were a new side, we were a complete new squad of girls so to get where we got for being a brand new side, pretty happy about that," coach Aimee Kirby told The Courier.
"It was a great start, I think being a new team that (was) the start we were looking for, that (was) the start we needed to prove to ourselves that we were good enough to be there.
"Those four wins got us to where we needed to be in the finals."
The Crows started off the campaign in dominant fashion, handing Carngham-Linton a 47-goal round one defeat.
They backed it up with a 36-goal win over Waubra the following week.
Their first challenge came in round three against fellow improvers Skipton, a game Beaufort won 39-33, announcing itself as a legitimate finals contender in 2021.
"It did give us some confidence," Kirby said.
"It (was) the confidence that we needed, we knew they were going to be a strong side but it gave ... us a good insight into maybe some of the harder teams we would come up against."
After passing that test, the next challenge awaiting Beaufort was perennial contenders Springbank.
The Tigers were superb, handing the Crows a 34-goal loss.
While a heavy defeat, it showed Beaufort where the standard was at the top of the ladder and where it need to aspire to get to.
"We knew we would have to dig deep for Springbank ... (them) being together for the last 10 years have got the game well set out," Kirby said.
"We knew that we needed to go out there, play our game, they gave us a bit of a whoopin', but it helped us because we knew that the rest of the games were going to be tough."
It rebounded to beat Newlyn by 10 goals the following week.
After that round, the season's first lockdown hit and the CHNL and CHFL were forced to miss two rounds of action.
The time off seemed to kill some of Beaufort's early momentum, losing three games on the trot following the return to the court.
Two of those losses came at the hands of top four sides Hepburn and Rokewood-Corindhap, which is nothing to be ashamed of considering the strength of these teams.
"I suppose coming out of lockdown, it was hard to get back into it, you lose the momentum, it was sort of just hard to I suppose pick the spirits back up to get back into it," Kirby said.
"It was sort of a bit of a deflating thing and thinking are we going to be playing next week, are we going to go into lockdown again, so I suppose lockdown (had) a bit of a dark cloud over the top of everyone."
The challenge facing Beaufort in 2022 will be to take that next step and compete strongly with the top five teams and not let one loss become two and then three etc.
The strength of Buninyong, Hepburn, Learmonth and Springbank has been consistent for a long time but the emergence of Rokewood-Corindhap, Gordon, Dunnstown and even teams like Skipton and Waubra who just missed finals means the level of competition will remain high next season.
Kirby said she believes the jump into the top four is not a big one and is a viable aim for the Crows.
"I think top four would be a great spot for Beaufort to finish next year," she said.
"I think the girls being a good season that we've had this season, I think that's somewhere where the girls can finish up."
Kirby has not made a call yet on whether or not she will lead Beaufort again for the 2022 season.
6-4, 60 per cent games won, 108.94 traditional percentage
Round one: defeated Carngham-Linton 69 - 22
Round two: defeated Waubra 51 - 15
Round three: defeated Skipton 39 - 33
Round four: defeated Bungaree 42 - 26
Round five: defeated by Springbank 59 - 25
Round six: defeated Newlyn 40 - 30
Round nine: defeated by Dunnstown 39 - 40
Round 10: bye
Round 11: defeated by Hepburn 26 - 65
Round 12: defeated by Rokewood-Corindhap 32 - 48
Round 15: defeated Clunes 39 - 31
Round 17: bye
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