A TALENTED state representative in basketball, Bendigo Pioneers’ Annabel Strahan has a goal of following in the footsteps of the footballer she loves to watch the most – Marcus Bontempelli. Despite being a Blues’ fan, Strahan said she can draw similarities in their journeys and hopes that she can emulate his efforts in the AFL Women’s.
“He also played a bit of basketball when he was younger and I think I see that through similarities in the way that he plays the way that I’ve transitioned too,” Strahan said. “I love how he’s one of the best users of the ball on both sides and I think that makes him really unpredictable and really versatile wherever he plays. “I hope to do that as I get more into my footy journey.”
“In terms of the girls, I think as a local person to use would be Kerryn Harrington who played for Spirit when I played (basketball) at Bendigo,” she said. “I think being able to watch her transition from basketball to footy and how she’s just been so good in both of those has been a good inspiration and good idol to use to see that you can transition and play both sports.”
As Strahan eluded to, she has had quite the journey, beginning in basketball until a couple of years ago where she took the chance on playing footy with the Pioneers.
“I moved to Bendigo two years ago which is when my footy journey started,” Strahan said. “I had been playing basketball. “Did that through the Vic Country program, played up for Bendigo. “Then I wasn’t kind of enjoying things so I wanted to try out footy and see if I would enjoy it and I absolutely loved it. “Loved it from the moment I played local footy. “Then I got invited to Pios the year after and just kind of kept going I guess.”
The attraction to football came from the increased team environment, with 18 players on the field compared to five on the basketball court. Similarly, Strahan said football was good at gradually bringing you into the system and getting the fundamentals right without demanding too much once you got to the elite junior level.
“I think the thing with basketball and the whole program where it was really intense really early on,” she said. “I felt like it was really professional from a young age and it kind of felt like I had nothing left to give for it and wasn’t really enjoying how it wasn’t really a team sport anymore and more focused on sole players. “But footy I found is much more focused on that team mentality and you’ve got to use everyone on the team, there’s not just one star team. “I like how it’s more valuing for each player on the team.”
Predominantly a midfielder in her short career, Strahan had a role change at the start of this year, moving to half-back where she thrived and said she would love to have a go at more positions around the field.
“I really enjoyed that and I think that I’d love to enjoy playing in more positions and obviously haven’t played enough to play most positions, but I think coming off the backline I really enjoyed that and I think being able to shift through multiple positions is really a good aspect for the game and for my versatility,” she said. “I think for the moment I’d say I’m enjoying the backline a lot but I’m open to being switched about wherever.”
Strahan said her clean hands and groundballs were among her best attributes on the footy field, crediting basketball with her skill. She also said she was looking to gain greater strength, adding 10kg since last season in a bid to become more of a “tackling threat”.
“I think I’ve transitioned really well and stands out in my game,” Strahan said. “With that I think my footwork which you spend so much time working on around packs, I’m really good at getting out of that. “I think the biggest attributes that I’m proud of are my decision making and my composure around the footy with the ball which I think comes from playing point guard and those decision making roles with basketball.
“I think that’s (strength) definitely something I want to improve on is just be stronger around the ball and a bit more of a tackling threat,” she said. “Also with my height, being more intercept marking, I’m more of a threat in the air by taking some good marks.”
While the Pioneers midfielder might have grown up playing basketball, her love to football has always been there, as a member of a “rabid” footy following family.
“Yeah my dad and my brother and that side of my family has grown up with rabid followers of footy, all Carlton supporters through and through,” Strahan said. “I used to go to the footy all the time when I was younger, and I still love it now. I think it was always something that I followed, but obviously since I’ve started playing I’ve got a bit more into following it. “It’s definitely been a big part of me growing up.”
Strahan’s favourite memory was winning a flag on her birthday last year with Golden Square which was all the more memorable having lost to their opponents the year before. In terms of her NAB League career, her debut game against Murray Bushrangers was one of her favourites and personal best games she played.
Unfortunately for the top-ager, her season came to an abrupt end just as she was hoping to get going, which made it tough for her to believe the AFL Women’s was still a possibility. She said the announcement the season had been postponed and eventually called off was not a shock, but still a disappointment.
“I think at that stage we were all kind of expecting it I guess,” she said. “Everything was being cancelled but it was still up in the air and we were like ‘hopefully we’ll be able to come back and play’ so that was still in the back of our minds, we’ve just got to keep going on and training. “As it got further and further along it was kind of inevitable that it was going to get cancelled but I think the main thing was just being upset because I hadn’t played much footy so I thought ‘god no, it’s only three games not enough for me to get through with that’ but I guess footy just shows that people are always watching and so I think the biggest thing is just staying focused on that.”
“There’s lots of things to distract you from it but the easiest thing for me was just talking to my other teammates and just focusing on that if it does come back how we will get ready for that.”
Strahan said during the off-season she had tried to continue bulking up on her strength and conditioning by bringing some gym equipment home from her local gym to help with her goals. As for her skills, she said her mum would often head down to the local oval with her, but conceded that it was probably not the standard of teammate she was used to.
“In terms of footy, things were a bit more difficult,” Strahan said. “I had to go down to the local oval with my mum who doesn’t know how to play footy very well so I was getting kicks that were going everywhere but it really worked on my conditioning in a way that I hadn’t done before so that was quite an experience for me. “It’s just been like going down with my family and doing running on your own which is a bit harder than with the team. Just trying to stay focused and driven.”
Strahan thanked all those who had helped her along the way from her coach at Golden Square to her strength and conditioning coach and all her friends and family who had been so supportive of her journey.
“I think looking at those people you realise how important they are along the journey and how you couldn’t have got there without them,” Strahan said. “I think that footy’s just great in giving you all those people to rely on, but also to help you and push you to be the best player you can be.”
Now Strahan is edging towards achieving her goal after receiving an AFL Women’s Draft Combine invitation earlier in the month, something that she was a little surprised about considering her lack of on-field time.
“Yeah I think, not to sound like I’m not confident in myself, but only having not even finished my full season last season and I didn’t get to do the nationals, I just thought that I didn’t have enough of a resume for footy so to get that call-up was pretty crazy for me,” Strahan said. “I didn’t really think it was in my options but it just happened and things kept on happening which was pretty wicked.”
Now she knows exactly how far she wants to take her football with that chance of making the elite level in her sights.
“I think the whole thing for me is how much I’ve enjoyed footy and just looking ahead, you want to get drafted because you want to keep playing the sport that you absolutely love and that goes into you want to progress as a player and if I get to go into the AFLW, you get to play with the best players and you get to progress your footy that way and get to play with the best players there,” Strahan said. “So I think it would just be that building myself into the best player I can be and learning from all those star players who are in the AFLW.”
As for what it would mean to get drafted, Strahan said it would be “absolutely crazy”.
“I feel like every week in the past month has just been crazy and exploding for me,” Strahan said. “But I think it would just be very rewarding coming from basketball where things weren’t amazing, but footy I’ve just found has been so enjoyable and everyone has been so supportive, it’s just such a good environment.
“I think it would be really rewarding and also really exciting in terms of getting something to look forward to and really work hard on because the opportunity would just be amazing.”