U18 Girls season preview: Oakleigh Chargers

AFTER not winning a game in 2017, Oakleigh Chargers powered to three wins in 2018, including an impressive victory over Gippsland Power in Round 1 – their opponents tomorrow. Female Talent Manager Jennifer Phefley said the girls were able to build on their initial season and put in some impressive performances throughout the year to hold them in good stead for 2019.

“Last season was, for me personally was the first time that I was working with the girls so I came up off from the boys program and it was really good to see the development of the girls over the space of time that we had,” she said. “We went about six months or so, maybe a bit more when you include pre-season, but it’s really exciting to see that development and how quickly it’s happening with the girls.”

Oakleigh finished the year with two draftees – Collingwood taking Katie Lynch and North Melbourne adding Daisy Bateman. Both girls had tasted Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) action with Collingwood in the 2018 season post-TAC Cup Girls. Phefley said the experience had built on their time at the Chargers and set them up for a successful transition into the AFL Women’s competition.

“We actually had Daisy come back to chat to the girls at the club and she said it’s a very big step and I’ve actually spoken to Katie as well – both are loving the challenge but it’s definitely still a very big step and as I said, just a good challenge for the girls that want to take that next step with their football,” Phefley said. “Absolutely (the VFLW experience helped the girls). “The thing is with junior footballers, boys or girls, it depends on their maturity in both their body and mind is set to how well they adapt at that next level and getting a taste of it as a junior is really important.”

Like a number of sides, Oakleigh focused its pre-season attention on strength and conditioning. It was an area of improvement identified last year, and Phefley said the girls were taking the changes in their stride. While they felt the team might have been less prepared for the 2018 season, the Chargers Female Talent Manager said 2019 was a different story.

“(It has gone) really well,” Phefley said. “We identified key areas at the end of last season that we wanted to develop on – particularly the strength and conditioning side of things. We found when the girls got onto the full-ground last year they were a bit under-conditioned so that’s been one of the main focuses in pre-season. “And then just things like overhead marking, ball skills on the ground – those sort of key areas that we’re seeing are really important skills to have when you move up through VFLW and into the AFLW. “I think the girls are feeling pretty confident in that they’ve prepared themselves the best they can. We’ve got a lot of new girls in the squad so I think there’s a bit of an exciting vibe from them that this is their first foray into the competition. So I think it’s a really good, positive vibe from all the girls.”

The top prospect to watch in season 2019 is the silky-skilled Gemma Lagioia who roams between the midfield and forward lines. Phefley said Lagioia was a smooth mover who has a game-turning ability.

“She’s been really good (in pre-season),” she said. “Obviously she’s an outside player so we’re working on those really clean skills. We had a practice match on the weekend and a couple of times she just kind of waltzed through and was able to get the ball really cleanly and it allowed us to come out the other side of the stoppage and take control of the game from that aspect.”

Emily Harley is a tall target who switches between forward and defence, and was recently named as vice-captain of the Chargers. Phefley said she might be in for a change of role in 2019, still playing forward but spending time in the midfield to use her stronger body to the teams’ advantage.

“She’s an interesting one,” Phefley said. “We probably would be looking at her as that tall big-bodied midfielder a bit, and also playing as a forward. “She’s got that massive kick, she’s a very powerful athlete so being able to utilise her assets in that matter – she’s very strong obviously in the contest and in stoppages.”

Phefley said the other player who could catch attention this season is 19-year-old Amelia Peck, who is the Chargers’ tallest player at 183cm. She is described as “very strong, (and) has got very good hands overhead and below her knees” and could become an important player for Oakleigh.

“They’re probably our top three in terms of top-agers this year, we’ve obviously got some other girls coming through and it’s just a matter of seeing how they progress in matches,” Phefley said. “We haven’t seen enough of them, or they’ve developed quite rapidly and so it’s just a matter of where they go from here.”

Looking beyond 2019, Phefley said there was a lot of developing talent at the club, with some players already showing leadership on and off the field.

“Our captain is actually a middle-age player, a 17-year-old – Mimi Hill,” she said. “Obviously she was voted in by the girls so she’s highly rated for her skills and the way she goes about her football both on and off the field. “So she’s definitely one that we’re keeping an eye on over the next two years. “(Others) we’ve got as bottom agers, they’re still quite raw but there’s definitely some exciting things there. “We’ve got Charlie Rowbottom, she’s actually the younger sister of James Rowbottom who was drafted last year, and she’s quite a strong big-bodied 16-year-old. “She’s developed and has got some really good upside, unlike a lot of other 16 year olds she’s got the body to play against the older girls so it’s just giving her confidence to break through packs and take on those bigger bodies.”

While Phefley has remained on board in the female space, long-time Male Talent Manager, Craig Notman headed to Tasmania to manage the new Tasmanian Devils side. A number of other talent managers switched allegiances, including Western’s Jy Bond who moved from the Jets to the Chargers over the off-season.

“It’s been good (having Jy Bond on board),” Phefley said. “Obviously Jy’s been a Charger himself so he’s really jumped in and he’s really enjoying the club. “There’s all our old stalwarts that were here when he was here so it’s been really good. “As it is when anyone new comes in, they bring their ideas, their fresh ideas and something new.”

Looking out to Sunday’s clash with Gippsland Power, Phefley said the team was raring to go, and wanted to bring the heat while building both individual and team development in 2019.

“We just want to improve on last year, so as long as we come out the other end having learnt a couple of things – obviously we’ve placed emphasis in our pre-season on our conditioning, being able to run out games, tackling, pressure around the ball, all those sort of things,” she said. “As long as what we’ve been training, we’re able to put into practice and develop along the way – that’s all we can really ask for.”

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