U18 Girls season preview: Eastern Ranges

EASTERN Ranges will field a virtually new side in the Under 18 Girls competition this year after 17 top-age players left at the end of last season. Now the Ranges will look to their next crop of youngsters to stand tall and follow on from the impressive first couple of seasons.

Female Talent Manager, Jessie Mulholland said the Ranges were pleased with the amount of girls who made Vic Metro squads, and played in the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition.

“We thought that we had a really successful year, we had I think overall 11 girls between the 16’s and Under 18 Metro teams. We then had 13 girls on VFLW lists and then obviously the three drafted in Charlotte (Wilson), Emerson (Woods), and Mikala (Cann). So, for us and as a talent manager coming in for the first year, I don’t think we had as much success as the first year, but we were pretty wrapped with the girls but we also had a lot of talent – we had 17 top-agers, whereas this year we’re looking at about eight so we’ve lost a lot of talent coming into this year, we’re a lot younger. You can definitely tell with the skills but also how quiet it is around the group, obviously losing 17 18-year olds it’s a big drop off so we were really happy with last year and really excited for this season to start.”

The Ranges were keeping touch with the top two sides early in the season, but a shock loss to the previously winless Western Jets put a dint in their season. It did however teach the side plenty of important lessons.

“I agree (it somewhat derailed the season),” Mulholland said. “In saying that I think it was a good eye-opener for the girls – a lot were really disappointed, but they (Western Jets) obviously beat us on the day and they deserved the win, and to see how upset the girls were you obviously knew how much they wanted it. “They can’t win every game so I think for us mentally it was a good game to lose, to think you can’t just come in thinking and assuming that because you’re higher on the ladder that you’re going to win if you don’t show up on the day. “For the girls to be as upset as they were took us a few days to get over, but they came out the week after and obviously our next loss was against Calder in the rain.”

The Calder loss provided the Ranges with a lesson in wet weather football, as a future AFL Women’s star ran the side ragged.

“It was pouring down rain, it was probably our first game in the rain,” Mulholland said. “They beat us on the day too and (Madison) Prespakis was all over the ground so look, we can only get better and obviously we learn from the losses but in saying that, the girls should learn what a loss feels like because they’re not going to win every single game for the rest of their careers so for us that was probably the bigger lesson that we learnt than anything else.”

Looking ahead to 2019, AFL Women’s Academy top-age talent, Laura McClelland is the one to watch.

“She’s looking great, we’ve sort of got a kicking coach with her at the moment – that’s probably one of her weaknesses and she knows that, so we’re making sure that that’s ready to go and she’s confident in that,” Mulholland said. “She’s really excited about the season and we’re just sort of really getting ready to start and dying for this month to just fly through so we can start playing some games.”

Mulholland said McClelland will rotate between the midfield and forward as she looks to give her the greatest exposure to AFL Women’s recruiters.

“For the top-agers we try and look at where AFL clubs would want them to play so some of our top-agers may play in positions that they probably didn’t play in last year,” she said. “There’s a few girls that are coming in that haven’t played with us before and they’ll play in positions that we can see AFL or VFLW clubs looking at them for – looking at their strengths and weaknesses and where they’re going to be drafted. “‘Mac’ will play forward, but have a run in the midfield at some point as well.”

As well as McClelland, Mulholland named Tahlia Merrett and Victorian Netball League (VNL) netballer, Serena Gibbs as other top-age players to watch, while bottom-age talents Olivia Meagher and Tahni Brown are those with high potential for the future.

“They’re really exciting,” Mulholland said. “It’s shocking to see that we have still have another two years with them – their draft year will be next year so you sort of have parents or clubs talking to you about them, so you can’t actually tell that they’re still so young and middle-age for us. “Olivia’s really pumped up, she’s been with Collingwood through the Academy for the past few months so she’s learning a lot from them and they’ve shown up to every training session, they’ve loved it and they’re just ready to go. “They’re probably starting mids and they’re really exciting to watch – to think that we have them for another two years is just unbelievable.”

Mulholland said 19 year-old Gibbs would provide a tall target with plenty of development throughout the season.

“She’s probably the tallest player on our list and is as I said, really raw like Mikala (Cann) – obviously not as short as Mikala but she’ll be exciting,” Mulholland said. “We can teach her and shell soak everything up and we’re really excited just to watch her play some practice matches and see what she can do.”

Mulholland said she was hopeful about what the season could produce but knew it would have its challenges considering the youth of the side.

“We’re really excited,” she said. “We are very young, so we sort of look at ourselves like the Knights did last year and they were absolutely babies and got into a grand final so we’re obviously not writing ourselves off. “We’re very raw, but we’re really excited – we’ve got about eight bottom-agers where the majority could be picked into the Vic Metro squad, so what’s coming through in years to come is really exciting for us and our top-agers are really exciting as well. “We would’ve thought last year we were going to be closer to the top than what we were but obviously the Jets and Calder games didn’t do us many favours. “But yeah, we’re really excited and happy with our lists and what this region provides for these girls – it’s exciting and we’re just raring to go.”

Eastern Ranges begin their season on March 3 with a clash against Dandenong Stingrays at Skybus Stadium in Frankston.

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