EIGHTEEN year-old, Lauren Stevenson thought she would not have the opportunity to represent the Eastern Allies in 2018.
She was told by her coaches to give the younger girls a chance, which she was completely accepted. But then her coaches backflipped in the most pleasing way she could imagine.
“I went and played for Tasmania against NSW/ACT and yeah I don’t know, they just had a meeting apparently and they changed their mind on the rule and they said ‘we want you to come up and play in the Eastern Allies’,” Stevenson said. “I was over the moon, I was shocked, I was not expecting it because I’d finally accepted that I couldn’t go away but you know that’s fine, give the other girls an opportunity. “Then when I got that phone call, I was at work and I was buzzing at work. “I’m so fortunate and lucky to get another opportunity.”
With that opportunity, Stevenson revolutionised her game, thanks to the help of AFLW players, Alicia Eva and Nicola Barr. The Greater Western Sydney (GWS) duo coached the Eastern Allies in the 2018 AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships and Stevenson believes their advice was invaluable.
“This tournament, Alicia (Eva) and Nicola (Barr), who’s the back coach, have asked me to play behind the player this time and mix it up and just spoil,” the 18 year-old said. “So I’ve changed my game a bit which has been different, but I have learnt a lot from playing a totally different game. “I can’t thank them enough for helping me and showing me the vision of what I did right and what I did wrong.”
Back home at Latrobe in Tasmania, Stevenson thrives off the advice of her Dad, who was a keen footballer. When she was younger, she did whatever she could to be involved in football because like many other girls, she was told she was not allowed to play football after finishing off Auskick.
“My Dad was a really good footballer when he was younger and stuff and he’s telling me all about his football,” the Eastern Allies defender said. “I’d always go and help him at his club and run water for them or umpire, get around the footy boys and loved it there. “Anything I could do to help, I was happy to because I just loved it.”
Her father repays the support now, as does the rest of her family, who travelled up to the Gold Coast to watch Stevenson take the field.
“My whole family’s really supportive and really invested into my football,” she said. “My mum’s up here at the moment and Pop’s watching me which is really good [this interview was conducted at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships at Gold Coast]. “Dad’s really helped me with wanting to go for a kick, he’s more than happy to come help me with a kick, come to as many games as possible, same as my mum and my sister. “They’ve all really helped me a lot with everything.”
Stevenson currently works with her Dad as a stable hand, which means very early starts to the day. But despite this, the 18 year-old maintains a full focus on footy, using most of her day after work to perfect her skills and fitness levels. Her typical routine is by no means a light one, as she describes how she balances work with footy.
“In the morning, it depends on when the jockeys come in as well what time we start, but 5am start, get to the track, take the horses in, work them all, do all the usual stuff, then we will finish at around 11-12pm,” Stevenson said. “I picked up another training session, so Mondays I’d finish up at the track, come back and do a speed session and then finish that off, have a little downtime, then I have football training that night so I’d go to that. “The next day, the same things, get up early, finish at 12, then I have a strength session that night at the gym. “There’s training on every night.”
In addition to her extra training, the 18 year-old is also a part of North Melbourne’s senior academy. She has participated in many other training programs which add to her impressive football accolades as well, showing how determined she is to succeed in the sport.
“I’ve gone through the AFL Tasmania program which has been great,” the defender said. “I’m doing all the TIS (Tasmanian Institute of Sport) testing, going through all the carnivals and all that jazz but now that North Melbourne came in and they’re affiliated with Tasmania, they started up a senior academy. “I think there’s about 20 girls in it in the senior academy in Tasmania. “We all got strength and conditioning programs that we work with in our coaches and our regions and everything like that. “Every week you feel you’re improving in your strengths and in your power, your speed and your endurance. “It has helped me a lot and I wouldn’t be where I am now without those programs.”
Not only has she been able to develop her skills, but being in the academy has also allowed her to narrow down her options in terms of picking an AFLW team.
“I’ll nominate for North Melbourne,” Stevenson said. “ I would love to play for North Melbourne, I’ve barracked for them since I was little so I would love to pull on their jumper. “But if that doesn’t happen, I’d love to just play for any AFL club really.”