2021 AFLW U19 Championships state preview: Vic Country

WE move into the third of our AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships squad previews, taking a look at Vic Country ahead of its first match against Vic Metro tomorrow at Trevor Barker Oval. The 24-player squad for that match has been named with a number of bottom-agers alongside some draft-eligible and 19-year-old talents.

2021 VIC COUNTRY SQUAD FOR VIC METRO CLASH:

#1 Tahlia Meier (GWV Rebels)
#2 Aurora Smith (Murray Bushrangers)
#4 Poppy Schaap (Geelong Falcons)
#5 Elizabeth Snell (Bendigo Pioneers)
#6 Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays)
#8 Jemma Finning (Bendigo Pioneers)
#9 Paige Scott (GWV Rebels)
#10 Abbey Jordan (Dandenong Stingrays)
#11 Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)
#12 Gabbi Featherston (Geelong Falcons)
#13 Emily Shepherd (Dandenong Stingrays)
#14 Jaide Anthony (Dandenong Stingrays)
#15 Chloe Leonard (GWV Rebels)
#17 Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons)
#19 Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)
#20 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)
#21 Ashleigh Richards (Dandenong Stingrays)
#22 Renee Tierney (Geelong Falcons)
#23 Elizabeth Dowling (Geelong Falcons)
#24 Ingrid Houtsma (Geelong Falcons)
#25 Mackenzie Eardley (Dandenong Stingrays)
#26 Grace McRae (Gippsland Power)
#28 Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers)
#29 Grace Matser (Gippsland Power)

QUICK SUMMARY:

Vic Country has a balance of 19, 18 and 17-year-olds across the squad, with seven in their 19th year, four in their 17th year and the 13 draft-eligible players this year. A number of these players have pulled on the ‘Big V’ at Under 16s level, with Renee Tierney and Elizabeth Snell named in the initial Under 18s squad back in 2019, but due to the top-age preference, did not end up making the final squad. Both will be out to have an increased role alongside the likes of Abbey Jordan, Grace McRae and Jemma Finning who all received Draft Combine invites last year. Among the bottom-agers to watch, Dandenong duo Mackenzie Eardley and Amber Clarke have already caught the eye, with Emily Shepherd a game in back from injury, and Paige Scott the one non-Dandenong bottom-ager having provided plenty of firepower inside 50. After Vic Metro, Country will host South Australia and Queensland more than a month apart with the schedule rejigged due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Brisbane.

FIXTURES:

R1 vs. Vic Metro (April 2 @ Trevor Barker Oval)
R2 vs. South Australia (April 12 @ TBC)
R3 vs. Queensland (May 23 @ TBC)

FIVE TO WATCH: (2003-BORN)

Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers)

Vic Country’s standout prospect this year, Slender is the most versatile player in the state, and possibly across the country. Having already ticked off her work as a key defender in past years, Slender has been deployed as a key forward, and even through the midfield this year to play any role required and do it well. A whopping 28 touches against Calder Cannons through the middle showed she can adapt in any situation, and is as balanced as they come with an ability to win the ball in the air or at ground level. Slender can use it will by hand or foot, and has been named as a key forward for the game against Metro with Ella Friend pushed up to a wing, though both will likely rotate and be those marking targets.

Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)

Boasting some of the strongest hands going around, the contested marking key forward has been utilised on the wing of late, and that is where she has been named for the big clash against Metro. Despite being that key position size, Friend has good athleticism which makes her just as damaging at ground level, and can crumb her own work down there. She is creative and can set up plays in the forward half, and has a long raking kick that can travel long distances either on the run or via the set shot. She is someone who can slot in anywhere around the ground, though expect her to rotate between midfield and forward where she can have the greatest impact with her strength and marking.

Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)

The third AFL Women’s Academy member in the Country side, Dojiok has lightning acceleration, mixed with power that makes her difficult to contain. Once she takes off, the Rebels defender builds her speed with such force, she can run through players, as well as around them. She was a raw talent coming into the system as a 15-year-old a few years back, but has rapidly developed her game, and now finds plenty of the football and can even push up to a wing, charging away and providing great drive in transition. Expect Dojiok to take plenty of grass throughout the championships, breaking down opposition defensive zones.

Tess Craven (Geelong Falcons)

One of the most consistent players this season, Craven is arguably the in-form midfielder of the Country team. She might even be one of the youngest alongside 19th year prospects, Jordan and Snell onball. She has clean hands and just creates scoring opportunities for her side, cracking in and able to extract the ball from the contest and get it inside 50. Her work rate is a feature of her game, and she often has the ball in a string. As someone who seems to step up for the occasion each week, it is hard to see her not finding plenty of the pill, but will have a tough assignment up against a star-studded Vic Metro midfield.

Jaide Anthony (Dandenong Stingrays)

A former Academy member with plenty of talent, Anthony is another versatile player capable of playing at either end. She has settled into defence as her best spot, and returned after missing a couple of games due to concussion. She is consistent across the board, able to use her footskills well, take intercept grabs and create opportunities in transition, moving the ball well from deep in defence going forward. She adds that composure and leadership in the back 50, and alongside a host of other quality defenders, the Vic Country defence is unbelievable and good luck to any team trying to score against it.

OTHERS:

The Vic Country defence is nothing short of elite, and the strongest third on the ground of the side. With Anthony and Dojiok back there, Geelong Falcons duo Annie Lee and Elizabeth Dowling will provide the intercept and run with Dojiok, while bottom-ager Eardley and Rebels ball-winner Chloe Leonard will make it a well balanced side. Up front, the mix of power (Gabbi Featherston), speed (Amber Clarke) and tackling pressure (Poppy Schaap) is equally as impressive, whilst Grace Matser will look to take control in the ruck. The hardness of McRae and Snell will match well with the outside run of Aurora Smith.

SQUAD STRENGTHS:

  • Elite defence
  • Balance, picking a team for a plan
  • Versatility
  • Inside ball-winning hardness

The elite defence has already been mentioned, but the overall team as a whole is really well balanced. There are not too many of the one type of player which helps, and the front six is a group that could work well as a unit without impacting the way others play. The six forwards are all so different in their footballing abilities, whilst the defence have that accountability. Versatility is the key, and that is what the side certainly offers, with so many players able to play across multiple lines.

Whilst Metro might have the class onball, Country will have no fears about cracking in, and they have the talent across the board that can win it and make life difficult for the opposition. Tahlia Meier, Ingrid Houtsma and Ashleigh Richards are other forward options who can roll through there and create scoreboard pressure, or in the case of the latter two, push up and impact the midfield.

LAST WORD:

Vic Country could be the team to beat this year, just on balance alone. Vic Metro has some unbelievable prospects, but Country’s depth across the board and the strength from defence to attack is terrific. They will be a difficult team to score against, and all three opponents will find the going tough, with the successful South Australians going to have a cracker with Country in Round 2 of the championships.

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