WHILE South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s has been a fantastic initiative for all eight SANFL clubs to be involved in, some sides have had more on-field success than others so far. In Sturt’s three years playing in the SANFL Women’s League, they are yet to make a finals appearance. Changing this record is high on the agenda of Sturt’s senior women’s coach Bruce Dawes in 2021, particularly following their capitulation after returning from the COVID-19 break last season.
“Pre-COVID, we were actually pretty happy with the way we were tracking,” Dawes said. “We were 2-2 at that stage and felt the girls were making pretty good improvements. Having that break really interrupted us. Some girls chose not to come back post-COVID because work and different things changed for them, so after that we certainly didn’t play the football we were hoping to play.”
Sturt did not claim another victory for the 2020 season, concluding the year with two wins, seven losses, one draw and the lowest percentage in the competition, 25.04. This put them in sixth position, just one point ahead of bottom two clubs Woodville-West Torrens and Central District.
“Overall, we were disappointed with the season, no doubt about it,” Dawes said. “You always want to play finals, but I think we’re moving in the right direction now.”
Over the summer period, Dawes has put an emphasis on improving his players’ fitness levels, along with some other key areas of SANFLW football.
“Preseason’s been really good, one thing we felt last year was that we weren’t as fit as we’d like to have been, so there’s certainly been a focus on fitness,” Dawes said. “All of our GPS information is telling us that the girls have been working harder and their intensity is up, so that’s been a real bonus for us. From there, it’s just constant work on developing our skills and our game plan.”
When asked about their game plan, Dawes said he wants to help his players to develop greater football IQ’s and understand match situations when they are out in the heat of battle.
“We do a lot of work on our strategy type of stuff,” he said. “We want to control the footy then get our timing right of when to go fast and when to go slow. That’s what we’re looking at trying to achieve this year.”
As for Sturt’s recruiting strategy this offseason, they have focused on bringing players into the SANFLW system rather than poaching from rival SANFLW clubs.
“We’ve gone to the local clubs,” Dawes said. “We were able to watch a few local games once our season had finished, and from that we were able to attract a few newer girls who are bit older and have played a little bit of football. A couple of girls from Uraidla, Molly Fletcher and Alisha Gepp, who have really added to our group. Another girl Jess Good, who played at Blackwood, is a tall ruckman that’s come into the squad and been excellent for us. Chloe Forby came over from the Eagles, she’s a little goer that plays small forward, she’s added to the group as well.”
At the Under 18 preseason testing day earlier this month, 2020 Club Champion Zoe Prowse revealed that she is planning to play as a midfielder for the Double Blues in 2021. This surprised some given her prowess and expertise as a ruck, but Dawes clarified their reasoning behind the move.
“We just want to try and develop Zoe’s complete game,” he said. “She’s an outstanding athlete. Will she be a ruck at AFL level? She absolutely can be, no doubt, she has the athleticism to do it. But if we can add extra strings to her bow, where she could become a midfielder and then occasionally pinch hit in the ruck, that would really add to her talent as well.”
As for Sturt players that fans should keep an eye on this season, Dawes had several names in mind.
“A crowd favourite is Kate ‘Buba’ Harris– she’s a hard-working half-forward that goes at everything, is intense and just loves the game, the group love her too, she’s outstanding,” Dawes said. “Zoe Prowse, Alex Ballard, Georgia Swan and Hannah Prenzler are all in the State program, which is excellent for them. All of those girls have been really good. A couple of left field ones [to keep an eye on]. New ruckman Jess Good is not a household name, but she’ll be very handy for us. Maya Rigter, Isobel Kuiper and girls like that have always been consistent performers for us as well.”
Although a finals berth is firmly on Dawes’ mind, he knows this will be difficult to achieve in 2021 due to the strong competition in SANFLW.
“Our goal is to play finals, no doubt about that,” Dawes said. “We think we were on track last year before the wheels fell off a bit, but we really think the list we’ve got now, the development the girls are putting in, and we’re progressing to a stage where we think we can play finals. Things will have to go right for us to do that, it’s a really tight competition that’s always constantly improving, so hopefully we’re improving a bit more than the other clubs.”
Sturt’s season begins on Saturday morning at X Convenience Oval when they take on Glenelg.
Picture credit: SANFL
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