WITH the top talent of South Australia and Western Australia on display at Flinders University Stadium, we cast our eye over some of the top performers on the day from both sides in the opening match of the 2021 AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships. The notes are the opinion of the individual writer.
#1 Laitiah Huynh
Played arguably the best game of her career, not only stepping up to the level, but being one of the best on ground throughout the match. Huynh was involved early and buzzing around half-forward, pushing up the ground and then dropping back, having a number of either scoring chances or creating scoring chances for her teammates. Whilst she did not managed to kick one herself, she was certainly lively, and both her attack on the footy and tackling pressure was really impressive. She showed her experience having played at the championships two years prior, by lifting and winning quite a lot of the ball and shovelling it out to teammates with clean hands, or kicking long down the line. An outstanding performance.
#4 Madison Lane
A rebounding machine in the back half, Lane played a part in bringing the ball down the field in transition and was able to exit the back 50 on a number of occasions. She was good one-on-one, but mostly it was her positioning to read the ball in flight, and she became one of a number of eye-catching defenders to save the day. It was almost an unheralded performance in a real team effort, but Lane was certainly impressive with her drive and strength to come out of defence time and time again.
#6 Gypsy Schirmer
The AFL Women’a Academy member showed a high work rate around the ground to win the ball in all thirds of the ground. She helped out defence early in the game winning a few crucial touches, and then made Western Australia pay for a turnover inside 50 in the second term. Picking the right spot 25m out from goal, Schirmer marked a quick kick from the pocket uncontested and slotted through the home team’s second. Later in the term, Schirmer produced a goal-saving run-down tackle, but unfortunately for her side, the ball was soon turned over and resulted in a goal anyway. Late in the match, Schirmer had the IQ to realise when she was going to receive contact in the back pocket after a mark and earned a 50m penalty for her troubles to chew more time off the clock.
#7 Brooke Tonon
Provided plenty of run and carry around the ground, particularly from defence. She mopped up on the last line a number of times and would thump the ball to safety, and push up to hold a high line when required. In the final term Tonon got on the front foot and was proactive with her positioning to keep pressure on the West Australian defence and get it long to the danger zone inside 50. It was her involvement midway through the term that was her best play though, mopping up again in defence at half-back, she started a play that ended in a goal to Keeley Kustermann in the play of the day.
#9 Tahlita Buethke
Provided some great run on the outside, always looking to break the lines and break down the opposition defensive structures. From early on, Buethke was willing to take risks, and whilst sometimes she would get closed down, she would always look for the chance to give-and-go and move it on quickly in transition. The South Adelaide talent just played a consistent game throughout with deft touches.
#10 Zoe Prowse
Up there with best on ground calculations alongside Laitiah Huynh, Prowse took control in the ruck and gave her midfielders first use. Her experience against quality opposition – including Montana McKinnon a week earlier – showed when she just positioned herself well and was able to negate Sarah Lakay early. Lauren Wakfer gave her some issues early, before Prowse again adapted and was the standout ruck on the ground. Needing to put in a strong performance given South Australia’s lack of ruck options, she certainly did just that and her second efforts and tackling was on display.
#11 Zoe Venning
Might not have had the space that some others that caught the eye did, but one could not underestimate the incredible role she did on the inside. Opposed to AFL Women’s Academy member Courtney Rowley for the most part, Venning cracked in and made sure the smooth mover did not have it all her own way. She would win the ball in close and shovel it out to teammates on the outside, picking the right exit to create a running chain from transition. She almost had a goal assist to her name with a clever outside-of-the-boot kick to the running Georgia Swan. At one stage Venning tried to fend off the bigger Matilda Dyke who brought her down, and then an early flying shot in the final term was intercepted, but her work throughout the game was strong.
#15 Alana Lishmund
Played a metres-gained type role with her kicking, having a number of thumping kicks from midfield and forward, and attacked the ball with gusto. She had a flying shot herself a couple of minutes into the final term, but it went out on the full, though she kept driving it inside 50. Much like Venning she was often in the thick of it, and even if she did not win it, she kept her running and work rate high throughout the match.
#19 Alex Ballard
Played the role of goalkeeper to a tee, dropping back on the last line and clunking no less than three goal-saving marks. Her positioning and footy IQ was quite impressive, and while she was one of a number of defenders to hold up the fort well, she was certainly memorable for her marks, including a couple of Ella Roberts shots, and one off Ashleigh Reidy who was so confident it was through she started celebrating. The Sturt defender was able to really stand up throughout the match and be a reliable interceptor down in the back 50.
#20 Hannah Prenzler
Captained the side and played a really consistent four-quarter game. Her third quarter was particularly memorable with a number of intercept marks and possessions, and aside from one poor kick that skewed off the side of the boot, Prenzler was able to run-and-carry and drive the ball out of defence. She was a steady head and composed throughout, often having to match up on the tricky Ella Roberts, but managed to always put the West Australian under pressure, and worked well in tandem with her fellow defenders to link up with the midfield out of the back 50.
#21 Lauren Clifton
Opened the account for South Australia in the sixth minute off a Georgia Swan pass and converted the goal on the run to get her team up and about. Whilst primarily stationed in the back half of the ground in the SANFL Women’s, Clifton showed off her versatility, and she did well to put the ball inside 50 in the third term for Sarah Branford to ry and run onto. The South Adelaide utility could have had her second goal with a snap in the goalsquare, but the handball from Laitiah Huynh was deemed a throw. Overall played her role as a forward, and sometimes the deepest forward.
#24 Keeley Kustermann
Went into the middle from the first bounce and did not look overawed in there, matching up with some tough competitors. She might not have had the space she is sometimes afforded to running off half-back, but certainly got involved throughout the contest. Kustermann had a flying shot five minutes into the second term but hit the post, then courageously put her body on the line to be crunched by a leading Ella Roberts, but force a spill at half-back. In the final term, Kustermann sealed the match getting on the end of the play of the day, marking well in front of goal and converting the set shot to give her state the breathing space it needed.
#28 Jade Halfpenny
A lively player in the front half of the ground, Halfpenny primarily played forward but did rotate into the midfield, such as after Western Australia’s first goal in the second term. The Norwood tall immediately got the clearance from the stoppage, and then really stepped up in the final few minutes, taking a strong mark, being involved in a one-two and then getting it to Laitiah Huynh in the pocket. The pair almost combined again inside 50 in the third term, but neither could cleanly get boot to ball under the pressure, though Halfpenny did have her chance with a flying shot and subsequent push earning a free kick, but her 25m set shot on a 45-degree angle went through for a behind. A really good performance across the board.
#3 Matilda Dyke
An absolute rock in defence, working in tandem with Beth Schilling to intercept and drive the ball out. She went up to marking contests and provided physical pressure, or picked off intercept marks with ease. When Zoe Venning tried to fend her off, Dyke was having none of it and laid a fierce tackle to win the free kick, and the Claremont defender maintained the standard throughout the match. She intercepted a flying shot from Venning early in the fourth term, and was just getting to the right positions time and time again to impact the play.
#5 Beth Schilling
One of the top West Australians working in tandem with Dyke, Schilling showed off her athleticism in the back 50 both in the air and at ground level. Often going up against stronger key position players in the WAFLW, Schilling was often opposed to smaller, lighter opponents and she was able to capitalise with her athletic gifts. Teaming up well with Matilda Dyke in defence, Schilling provided plenty of rebound, but also defensive pressure such as her outstanding run-down tackle on Sarah Branford in the back pocket which saved a certain goal. She took another great intercept mark in the back pocket in the final term to cap off a great day at the office.
#7 Ella Roberts
The best on ground for the visitors and threatened to kick a bag all day long. Found herself under pressure every time she went near it but kept leading out and clunking grabs throughout the fourth quarter. Came off a little sore in the fourth term, but came back on and kicked the goal of the day with a terrific snap from the third row that bent around and hit a right-angle bounce in the goalsquare to put her side back within a kick. Many might have thought it to be lucky, but the Peel Thunder bottom-ager knew exactly what she was doing with the snap, having had three shots from a similar angle early in the mark, all of which were marked in the goalsquare. The dominant tall up forward, Roberts might have only finished with the one goal, but could have easily have had four if not for the steadfast South Australian defence.
#8 Ashleigh Reidy
Played forward and certainly held her own with some classy movement and attack on goal. She had a great first term getting involved early and then snapped what she through to be a miracle goal from deep in the pocket. Both the hands went up to celebrate with a teammate, but no sooner had they embraced that they realised Alex Ballard had marked on the line. Reidy had another chance in the third term with a great sidestep and kick towards goal but was again picked off on the line, this time by Jamie Parish.
#18 Dana East
Good in close, a lot of the Swan Districts work was not as visible to spectators as it can be in the WAFLW, shovelling the ball out of the congestion with clean, quick handballs. One of Western Australia’s best, East had a big third term to try and drive the ball forward, and she was often spotted running hard on a wing to receive as well. One who kept her work rate high and hands clean, East consolidated her inclusion with a really consistent performance.
#20 Emily Bennett
A real standout for Western Australia, Bennett won plenty of the ball in contested and uncontested situations, but also predominantly as an intercept player. She used her body well in marking contests, and hit the contest hard, playing a four-quarter performance. Her ability to see-ball and get-ball be it in the air or ground level was admirable, and she provided plenty of drive out of defence alongside Beth Schilling and Matilda Dyke. She sometimes pushed up to the wing to hold a high line and would apply a tackle or bump to advantage her team, and the Claremont defender certainly stood up in big moments.
#23 Tara Stribley
The smooth-moving wing was clean and quick on the outside, looking to bring the ball forward on a number of occasions, particularly through the mid-quarters of the game. She had a quick snap two minutes into the third term but missed, and then had a second chance moments later through another snap, but that was rushed over and a free kick given to Tamsyn Morriss for a push in the goalsquare anyway. The highlight of her game was her huge run down the middle in the third term, with the home fans screaming she had run too far, but she showed what she could do with her ducking and weaving. Won a free kick midway through the final term for being thrown off it, and moments later Ella Roberts kicked a remarkable goal.
#24 Jaide Britton
The Peel Thunder talent played a consistent game and led from the front as she captained her state in the match. Britton was often seen coming off half-back or along the wing and just using composure when assessing options. She received the ball off Ella Roberts in the first term and had a flying shot she thought was home, only for it to hit the post on the way through and be declared a behind. Britton just kept her work rate high from the start and was there to aid her defence when required, then work hard in transition to bring the ball forward.
#27 Makaela Tuhakaraina
Started off in a blitz, winning a lot of the ball representing her state in Australian rules football for the first time. The South Fremantle prospect had no fears stepping straight onball, and attacked the ball fiercely in there. She might not have been as prolific as some other midfielders across the game, but if judged by moments, then Tuhakaraina might have had the best of the lot. Winning it at half-back with 30 seconds left, Tuhakaraina sensed the urgency and took it upon herself to charge down the ground, weaving and sidestepping opponents to bomb the ball to half-forward. Whilst two kicks later the siren sounded and the Sandgropers could not put one through, the run had given them a chance and impressed everyone watching on.
#28 Courtney Rowley
The AFL Women’s Academy member played her role on the inside, and was clean and balanced with the ball at ground level, and able to find some space to mark on the outside, or win a free kick. She had the first clearance out to Nyra Anderson who was on the wing, and was really lively throughout the opening term. She used clean skills and good decision making throughout the match, ending up being the only Academy member out there for the visitors with Charlotte Thomas and Amy Franklin not playing. She was one of a number of consistent midfielders through the middle and showed her class on the day.