BEING on time and taking Australian rules football more seriously might have been a bit of shock at first coming from her local club, but Keyshia Matenga enjoys it. The Queenslander and Gold Coast Suns Academy member certainly noticed the difference going from her local league which was a great social competition, to the Academy where the professionalism went up a notch as part of the pathway required to get to the elite level. It has also led Matenga to take a greater interest in the AFL Women’s competition and even pick a side and admire idols.
“Club league is quite more social and not as serious, where coming into Suns it’s more about being on time and making sure everything is correct which I like better,” Matenga said. “This year I’ve started following footy greater than last year because I’ve found more of a passion now. “I’ve started following Carlton, Darcy Vescio and also watching the Suns player like Leah Kaslar.”
Studying a Bachelor of Psychology and Bachelor of Exercise Science at university means her high school days might be done, but there is still plenty to juggle in terms of commitments. It helps that Matenga lives in local Carrara, which means the travel is not a huge factor when it comes to training.
“It’s good (juggling commitments),” Matenga said. “I put rep footy first, because I’m just starting footy now. “I’ll still put rep footy first because my goal is to also get drafted one day.”
Before she can get drafted, Matenga has her sights set on making her state side for the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships. While there is still great unknown given the state of world play and the COVID-19 pandemic, the talented teenager is keen to improve in any way she can. Speaking to Draft Central at the Queensland preseason testing day host by Rookie Me, Matenga said she wanted to make the step up to senior football.
“I’m hoping to make Queensland as a whole, just strengthen playing women’s football, because I’ve always played junior footy,” she said. “Just wanting to contest against the women rather than girls.” It would be awesome (to make the Queensland side). “I really like the intensity of Suns Academy right now and my friends have always said going into Queensland just increases. “The level of players increases, so your ability and skills will also increase, and I’m just keen to get better.”
Rewinding back to her childhood, Matenga made a crucial decision to pick Australian rules football over Rugby Sevens and her decision looks to have paid off with her development through the pathways.
“I have originally played touch football and then I’ve also done karate and swimming when I was younger,” Matenga said. “I needed another sport after I finished. “My parents told me to decided between Rugby Sevens and AFL. “I’d already played Rugby Sevens and back then it wasn’t as well developed as it is now, although AFL for girls was getting there and then AFLW was also just introduced. “Which was like quite great for the sport, and I was like ‘you know what? I’ll give AFL a go’. “Then I went down to the local club which was Broadbeach, and then I have just loved it ever since.”
The football community’s embrace has really helped Matenga stay in the sport, praising the club for its inclusion and the league as a whole for making it such an enjoyable experience.
“The community base around it,” Matenga said. “It feels like you’re in a family rather than individual sports where it’s just yourself. “Touch football was just about the sport, not the people that you meet or anything. “Football’s always been family-based so I really liked that about it.”
Having played touch football, there were some strengths the midfielder was able to transition over into the more aggressive game.
“My kick wasn’t the greatest coming into football, but my hands marking, catching and my handballs was quite easy to transition through as well,” Matenga said. “So I found that those skills also transitioned well to AFL too.”
Looking ahead to 2020, Matenga said she is most suited to a wing, where she can receive the ball and use her athletic attributes to advantage. She also has a number of areas such as her kicking and aggression towards the ball as aspects she wishes to improve upon.
“I feel like my speed is more better in that area instead of in the midfield where the ball will just be hit down and I’m quite small as well so I can just be wrapped up,” Matenga said. “(I want to work on) just hitting targets more and scooping up the ball through the offensive play or transition play, or transitioning from defence to offence.”
Her athletic capabilities certainly shone in preseason testing, where she was ranked equal first in the running vertical jump off her preferred right, and also in the top 10 in the other jumps, as well as agility and the yo-yo test. While the football landscape might be uncertain for now, the one uncertainty is that Matenga will not stop striving to be the best possible person she can be.