Coach Julie Fitzgerald says the Waikato Bay of Plenty have made huge strides during their run to a third place finish in the trans-Tasman netball league.

Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic coach Julie Fitzgerald is looking to keep the nucleus of her squad for next year’s trans-Tasman netball league after a campaign in which they surpassed expectations.

Under new coach Fitzgerald, the Magic fielded a much-changed line-up, with Silver Ferns greats Irene van Dyk and Laura Langman among the off-season departures.

But they were able to maintain their record of being the only franchise to make the play-offs in every year of the ANZ Championship.

Their latest run ended one step short of the grand final after a 54-50 defeat to the Queensland Firebirds in Brisbane on Monday night.

“They’ve come an awful long way,” Fitzgerald said.

“They’ve created a foundation from which we’ve started to build something really special and I don’t see any reason why that can’t continue to grow.”

The Australian cites the combination of experienced players in top form, such as skipper Casey Kopua, and youngsters given opportunities sooner than expected.

“I do honestly believe Casey has played the best netball I’ve seen her play, week-in week-out,” Fitzgerald said.

“Although I’ve only worked with her this year, so it’s hard to compare, others tell me her leadership skills have grown immensely this year.”

The Magic started with five wins in a row, giving them the prospect of a top-two finish and with it a home semi-final.

But a lull in results meant they ended up having to travel across the Tasman for as long as they stayed alive in the play-off series.

“I think we have to be disappointed in the number of games where we created enough opportunities to win and let slip,” Fitzgerald said.

“That’s certainly an area we will be looking at next year – when we get a lead, being able to build and consolidate on that lead.”