WHEN the siren sounded at the end of last year’s Herald Sun Shield Grand Final, Ballarat Grammar’s Rene Caris joined her teammates in rejoicing the win. It was not just a one-point victory, it was the result of many years of hard work and a close bond between the players.
“I first started when I moved away to boarding school in Year 10 and then a few of us all us boarders from farms in the country, we all just decided to start playing footy,” Caris said. “So we just joined the footy team at school, it wasn’t very high standard or anything but we just did it for a bit of fun. “When we were in Year 12 and we worked for three years to win the Herald Sun Shield and I was with all my best friends that I’d been in the boarding house with, and we ended up winning that game by a point – that was probably one of my most favourite experiences.”
Hailing from Quantong, a small town 15km west of Horsham, Caris knows the challenges associated with living in a rural area more than most.
“I did Auskick as a kid obviously,” she said. “Dad was the coach so I went along to that, but kind of stopped when I was about 12 I think. “You couldn’t obviously play girls footy past 14 so obviously that limits a lot of opportunities but yeah moving to Ballarat was the next best step I think so now I’ve eventually moved to Melbourne and there’s even more opportunities there.”
Caris is using the experience of playing with the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels, Vic Country and the AFL Women’s Academy to help teach others how to improve and play to their full potential.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Caris said. “I’ve learnt so much and I think it’s just great how us three girls from the Academy (Caris, Sophie Van De Heuvel and Georgia Clarke) can learn stuff at such a high level and teach these girls when we come back. “Even take it even further back when we go back to our clubs at home, like in Horsham. “So I feel like the word about playing girls footy has spread out a bit which is good.”
The strength in girls football is improving rapidly, and Caris cannot help but smile at how many aspiring female footballers are taking up the sport at her home club.
“Yeah definitely (it’s improving),” Caris said. “Last year I was part of Horsham girls. “Horsham Saints had a team, and you can already see how much the girls love it, they want to play, but there just really isn’t much of an opportunity and now there is. “There’s so many little Year 7s running around, it’s amazing.”
Caris is an athletic ruck who has stood out since returning from a back injury that kept her out of the early games in the TAC Cup Girls season. She played for the AFL Women’s Academy against Geelong Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s side at GMHBA Stadium, and represents Carlton in the same league.
The 19 year-old recalls her first training session at Ikon Park.
“It will be incredible (playing for Carlton),” she said. “Just been at the trainings, I was already star-struck with Darcy Vescio being my training partner in the warm-up. It’s going to be incredible to learn from these girls.”
After a successful stint as Vic Country’s ruck at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships, and showing off her versatility around the ground, Caris is hoping to finish the year on a high and improve her strength and marking, something she admits will come “hand-in-hand”.
With height and athleticism at a premium in the AFL Women’s, like every talented Victorian representative, everyone will be keeping a close eye on the country girl who is turning heads in the big smoke.