U18 Girls season preview: Gippsland Power

AFTER not registering a win in season 2017, Gippsland Power showed marked improvement in 2018, winning three games and drawing another – against a previously unbeaten side – while remaining incredibly competitive throughout the season. Female Talent Manager, Chelsea Caple and head coach Scott Armour are teaming up again in season 2019, after what was a really promising year last year.

“I think we definitely saw improvement in the team from season 2017 to season 2018,” Caple said. “Obviously, we saw a new coaching panel from Scotty McDougal to Scotty Armour and I think Scott brought with him that idea of developing the girls as individuals, developing them as a team and really focusing on those little wins. “So not necessarily those scoreboard wins, but tackling pressure and just the girls putting in 100 per cent and I think that really showed and our progress throughout the year with the wins and the draws that we had was definitely an improvement. “Obviously being a development competition, we don’t necessarily look at the scoreboard, but we know that winning teams and successful teams breed draftable players which is what we try and get achieved as well. “We were really happy with the season, especially coming from the back of 2017, having a little more of a challenging year. “This year will be just as interesting.”

There were some nervous times early in the season, with the Power opting not to play a pre-season practice match, and then getting belted by Oakleigh in the opening game. But any nerves about how the second season might go down, lasted just a round, as the Power turned it around to defeat the Western Jets, then draw with Murray Bushrangers the following round.

“We took some learnings (from last year),” Caple said. “So in 2017 we played a practice match against another side, and it probably from our perspective gave the girls a bit of a reality check so they were ready to hit Round 1 running. However, in 2018 we had five girls make our first side that hadn’t played a game of football competitively against other people.” “… and six other debutants,” Armour added. “So we had 11 playing their first TAC game. “I think we underestimated the nerves and how that could impact, because we saw how their football could develop from that first round, and change.” “Absolutely,” Caple agreed. “You could just tell in that first quarter that our really talented players from other sports were just like ‘oh my goodness this is the pace’ and it probably took them that whole game to adjust. They were learning the game as well, but they learning the pace, learning the intensity, but by Round 2 they knew what to expect.”

Armour said dual sport athlete, Jasmine Ferguson was a perfect example of someone who took time to adjust, but when she did, she flourished.

“I think Jaz Ferguson is a good example,” he said. “She came only playing school football, and only four games of school football, and struggled a bit in Round 1. “Then she had a really consistent season and ended up playing VFL football with Collingwood. “I think it was that first game, and we’ve got a practice match this weekend (earlier in February) and hopefully we can get some of those nerves out of the newer girls. :So we can be a bit more match ready this year.”

One constant in the Gippsland Power program who will no longer run out with the girls is last year’s co-captain, Tyla Hanks who has followed on from her top-age year with some impressive performances in the AFL Women’s competition for Melbourne. Both Caple and Armour praised the impact Hanks had on the group throughout her time at the Power.

“I think Tyla’s really calm under pressure and I think her season with us and her season with Carlton in the VFLW prepared her really well for AFLW,” Caple said. She’s playing against those bigger bodies, she’s got used to the pace. “Obviously AFLW is another step, but we never had any doubts that she wouldn’t be able to do it.”

“No she, boy or girl she’s one of the best young footballers I’ve seen and I think in a few years’ time you’ll see just how good she is at AFLW level,” Armour said. “She’s a young leader, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in the leadership group or in some leadership role in the next few years.”

So how will Hanks’ departure affect the Power? Caple admitted while the saying goes ‘everyone is replaceable’, she conceded Hanks was hard to replace. Armour said the team was not looking to replace Hanks directly, but instead look for a range of players to step up in her absence.

Tyla Hanks and Maddy Prespakis, those types, I think they’re hard to come by and I think you really value them when they do come through,” Armour said. “But we’ve got some really talented girls and we’re happy with how they’re progressing. “Not saying that they’re going to be a Tyla Hanks. “They’re all unique and different in their own way. “Nikia Webber had a pretty good Round 1 to 5 last year I think she’d kicked nearly 10 goals. “She started off really well and I think she’s got the potential to really impact this year and getting some consistency will be what we aim for her. “She’s a very good mark, she’s very good one-on-one and she’s one of the best kicks in the league. “Already people, VFL and AFL are looking at her kicking because it’s excellent. “So we do have some strengths coming through even though we’ve lost Tyla. “Just different players.”

Caple said the amount of players who had shown more voice at training and over the pre-season compared to the year before was noticeable.

“It’s also an opportunity for other players to step up. With Tyla filling such a role – she was a vice-captain in her bottom-age year and a captain in her top-age year, we’ve seen some of the girls through pre-season really stepping up and seeing that that gap needing to be filled,” she said. “We played an intraclub … and to see the voice from some of the girls that we didn’t see last year and even the direction and the leadership on the field. “Tyla was for us, and still is, a leader on the field and a leader by example. “To really notice that those girls are stepping up, understanding what Scotty wants from them in terms of structure and being able to guide that, where previously they probably did rely on Tyla.”

Armour said the reliance on Hanks at times also worked the other way, with Hanks having an ability to create opportunities for her teammates.

“I think it works both ways too,” he said. “There might be the mindset of ‘well Tyla will do it’, but also Tyla was one of those players that would bring others into the game and help with their confidence and they can get better because of it. “That was what we tried and the angle we used with Tyla, that she can build others up. “For the other girls, Tyla will be there to support them and the girls will be there to support Tyla and hopefully they weren’t just thinking Tyla will do it all. “We knew that she would get close attention. “Not saying that she got anything illegal, but close attention which she should because she’s an awesome player, so we needed other people to step up.”

With a lot of bottom-age players now moving into their top-age year, Gippsland Power has no shortage of leaders ready to take the next step, as well as some with limited football experience.

“So we’ve already spoken about Nikia (Webber), but Maddi Shaw (is one to watch),” Armour said. “We think Maddi can have a big impact this year. “She was really consistent for us last year. “She played through the midfield and off half-back. “She reads the ball well, she learns stoppages, she holds her feet well, (is) quick, tries to break the lines when she gets the ball. “Very aggressive when tackling. “We’re hopeful she’ll take that next step up this year. “Also, we’ve got another top-ager in Shanara Notman, now she didn’t play last year but she played V/Line the year before. “Now she’s come from elite basketball background and think she will be one to watch athletically. She’s quite tall, she’d be about 183cm. “She can play forward, back, ruck, onball, wing. “She can play anywhere. “Trying to decide I guess where the best fit is for the team will be important. She reads the ball really well, she is a competitor. “I remember years ago when we played V/Line, against Lucy Cripps‘ group (Peninsula Stingrays) and Lucy Cripps was doing really well so we put Shanara down there. “Now I think Lucy still won the day but Shanara made her really earn her possessions. And then she’s had a year off footy and come back to it. “We hope she will step up and from what she’s shown with her skill progression and her kicking been really good. “We’re excited for what the year can hold for her.”

Armour is excited to watch versatile bottom-ager, Chandra Abrahams continue to develop her game and build consistency in 2019 after glimpses of some highlight-worthy moments last season.

Chandra Abrahams has a really huge upside,” Armour said. “I think when she’s firing, the team is firing. “If she’s on, she can pull down some marks that not many others in the comp can. She’s a power athlete. She comes from an athletics background when she was young, she was an athletics champion at state level at shorter distance. She’s really powerful. “For her, when she’s forward she can lead with speed and have a lot of power in her lead when she goes up for the ball. She’s also really good up around the football, she’s really strong and she’s good at clearances. So I guess for us we’d like to see her going through the midfield and down forward, but that being said we played her down back at times last year and she did quite well last year, but probably forward and midfield for Chandra this year.”

Caple said the V/Line Cup squad has a number of players coming up who would be eligible for either the Under 18s or Futures games this season. Lily-Rose Williamson might only be turning 15 this year, but already the tough midfielder is eyeing off a spot in the Futures games mid-season.

“She’s 2004 born so we’ve been able to apply to have her potentially play in some of our futures games,” Caple said. “Last year she still played with the boys and the girls so she’d swap. “She’d play under 14s one week with dad and then play with the girls with mum. “Allegedly she was the best on the field with the under 14 boys and very, very, very hard tackler and held her own. “She’ll be an interesting one to see coming up for the Futures games.”

Overall, Armour has been pleased with the Power pre-season and looks forward to hitting the season running this weekend.

“I’ve been really happy with the way it’s been going and the way they’re developing,” the coach said. “We spent a lot of time in November doing a lot of fundamental skill work and trying to get some fitness into them. “We’ve been really happy with how it’s been going and it’s just been the last few weeks because of weather and things outside our control. “Things have been thrown upside down but we can only control what we can control, so we focus on that and try and move forward as best we can.”

As for a mantra throughout season 2019, it does not change with the Gippsland sides always keen for competitiveness and 100 per cent effort.

“As a team we’d like to be, one of the values of Power is that we’re hard to play against, that we’re really competitive and we’d love every team to come away thinking ‘gee that was tough’ whether they’ve lost or won, that that was a tough game,” Armour said. “That’s ideal. “I kept saying to the girls last year I want you to walk off the ground with your head held high, and the only way you can do that is knowing within yourself that you gave 100 per cent effort so for me, it’s a lot about them just giving absolutely everything they can. “If everyone gives 100 per cent we can’t ask for more than that. “They can’t do more than that, because some days you’re going to get beaten by teams that are better than you. “But the most important thing is we give 100 per cent and that’s coaching staff as well and that we are switched on and give our absolute best all the time.”

Gippsland Power starts its 2019 campaign on Sunday, March 3 against Oakleigh Chargers at Skybus Stadium Frankston, with the Power keen to make amends for last year’s Round 1 loss.

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