AFL Women’s Academy member Mikayla Pauga admits she is in a unique situation. The 18-year-old moved to Bond University for the start of the year to continue her studies, and therefore resides on the heart of the Gold Coast. Despite being around plenty of Gold Coast Suns, Pauga is a Brisbane Lions Academy member and one who has enjoyed coming through the program.
“It’s been pretty good I’ve recently moved to the Gold Coast, so it’s been a bit of an odd experience being in the Gold Coast region but playing for the Lions but I think it’s been really good,” she said.
Compared to many other aspiring footballers, Pauga describes her footballing journey as “quite short”. She first tasted it playing in high school and decided to take it up more seriously at Maroochydore, where she played for a couple of years in the seniors. There, she caught the eye of the Queensland talent pathway, not only running around for the Lions, but being selected in the AFLW Academy. With the move to university, Pauga had to switch Queensland Australian Football League (QAFL) Women’s clubs from the Roos to the Sharkettes.
Ahead of a clash against her former teammates at her old stomping ground at Maroochydore, Pauga said she was excited and a little nervous, but told Draft Central it was great to catch up with some former teammates pre-game.
“I’m actually kind of excited, I haven’t seen the girls since probably Round 1, so getting to play with them again, will be a bit harder because they know how I play and I know them well, but excited for the clash today,” she said.
Pauga’s journey has not only involved making the switch south from the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast, but she had to overcome two separate spinal fractures and also had surgery to insert plates into her hand and wrist. The injuries did not deter the pocket rocket who came back bigger and stronger than ever.
“It was a bit difficult, I had two quite similar injuries six months apart so it was just working that fitness back up and the mindset mentality back was a bit hard, but I feel like I’ve come a long way since then so it doesn’t really bother me now,” she said.
Pauga can play high or deep forward, or roll through the midfield, but admitted she hopes to increase her fitness to play more minutes up the ground, and also continue developing her overall game.
“I think I play like a small forward, so I’m close to the ground and pick up the crumbs a little bit and just little explosion plays I’d say,” she said. “I’d like to be able to run around a little more, and just reading the play.”
Over the journey, Pauga identified a former teammate and now Brisbane Lions youngster as a player she has looked up to as an inspiration and role model.
“I would say one of my role models, which would be a bit weird as I played with her for a few years, would be Lily Postlethwaite,” Pauga said. “Just seeing her journey, how hard she’s worked through the years and obviously she’s had her fair share of injuries doing her ACL this year, but yeah just seeing how hard she works and just because you have an injury doesn’t mean you can’t keep going.”
Now with the AFL Women’s Draft approaching, Pauga has her sights set on reaching the elite level, but also has some long-term goals to go with her more immediate future.
“Short-term would probably be drafted, and the draft is really close, they’ve pushed it a lot earlier this year, so definitely working towards that,” she said. “And just helping build the club reputation and the AFL Women’s in general.”