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By: Daniel Cencic
The return of a favourite son in Jamie Carpenter as senior coach has added further drive to the Whitehorse Pioneers’ charge as the club looks to build on its top-three finish last season.
The club played finals for the first time since 2009, winning 13 matches on its way to the preliminary final.
Appointed to the top-job in October, Carpenter played in the Pioneers’ 2007 Division 4 flag, where the club recorded an undefeated season.
Carpenter with the 2007 Division 4 cup. PICTURE: Leader Newspapers
Senior assistant coach Joel Daley says the club has been thrilled to have Carpenter back at Springfield Park.
“I’m good mates with ‘Carpy’ and it’s awesome to have him back at the club,” Daley said.
“There’s not much about footy that he doesn’t know – not only was he a really good player on the field but his football smarts are second to none of anyone I played with and I saw come through the doors at Whitehorse.”
Carpenter served as an assistant at Templestowe last season, and has brought big-bodied midfielders Anthony and Matt Mariani with him to Springfield Park.
The club identified a need for physicality around the ball in its off-season recruiting, where the former East Burwood and Dockers duo have also brought invaluable leadership to the group.
“The area we identified that we had to improve in was our strength around the ball and I’m sure those two boys will help us out,” Daley said.
“Not only on the ground around the ball will they be handy but they’ve turned up to training and both been leaders with our warm-ups and our drills.
“Whenever there’s time to have a chat when myself or Jamie don’t, both Anthony and Matt are more than willing – their leadership’s been first-rate.”
Aleks Kumurdian also re-joins the club from Templestowe, along with Edward Sim who returns from the Southern league.
“We’ve been lucky enough to bring in a few decent players,” Daley said.
“A couple of guys have come back to the club after trying their hand at higher divisions (Kumurdian and Sim) and it’s good to have them back.”
The Pioneers have retained the majority of their playing list, with the exception of rising youngster Lachie Bacon who has departed to play Division 1 football with Blackburn.
While his loss is disappointing, the club does not begrudge players looking for opportunities at higher levels, according to Daley.
“Lachie decided he wanted to challenge himself at Division 1,” Daley said.
“We’re not going to hold any of our kids back if they want to try at a higher level – he is a kid with a lot of promise and I hope he goes well there.”
Of the existing list, Daley is expecting the club’s youth to flourish again this season.
“Our average age is probably in the early 20s,” he said.
“Guys like Damian Bertacco who came second in our best and fairest last year is set to take another step forward this year along with his brother Matt and other younger guys like Chris McDougall and Matthew McCormack – we’re looking for them to take another step forward and help us get to that next level.”
Meanwhile, SEN Division 4 Team of the Year captain Maverick Gleed, who led the club last season, looks set for another promising year ahead which Daley hopes will see success.
“He’s been there through the tough times and hopefully he can lead us to the next step which is the grand final,” he said.
With the Pioneers looking to take the next step this season, the big dance is in the club’s sights after falling short to Forest Hill in the preliminary final last year.
“We surprised ourselves last year with the start that we had,” Daley said.
“A lot of those guys have been playing at the club since they were 18 and 19 and eventually they were going to grow into their bodies and become men.
“One step forward will be a spot in the grand final – that’s what we’re aiming at.
“A lot of the other clubs have recruited well and we know we’ve recruited well (and) our training has been first-rate and we’re just looking to rip into it.
“Anything less than a grand final berth and we’re going to be pretty disappointed.”
The Whitehorse Pioneers will host the Glen Waverley Hawks at Springfield Park in Round 1, on Saturday, April 7.