Determined Suns talent Imogen Evans enjoys social side and physicality of footy
IT has been a challenging 18 months for a lot of aspiring Australian rules footballers, and Gold Coast Suns Academy talent from the Northern Rivers region, Imogen Evans is no different. In fact, for a player unfortunately on the New South Wales side of the border, Evans has had to watch on as many of her teammates competed at the recent AFL Women’s Under 17 Championships clashes which were as close as just 15 minutes away from where she lived.
This is part one of a two-part feature, where Draft Central chatted to Evans about her journey, why she chose Australian rules football and how she got to where she is now. In part two, we will focus on the challenges associated with assorted border closures and how the determined talent has dealt with those challenges.
No doubt the talented teenager would have loved to be out there, and there is little doubt the Gold Coast Suns would have loved to have had her running through the midfield as well. As a 15-year-old, Evans earned All-Australian honours for the 2019 SSA 15 Years and Under side, a team that is littered with names to watch next year and beyond, including recent Most Valuable Player (MVP) at the AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships Ella Roberts, South Australian MVP Lauren Young, and Under 19s representatives such as Montana Ham, Bridie Hipwell, Amber Clarke, Keeley Kustermann and J’Noemi Anderson.
Evans has her own unique story though, coming from the Northern Rivers right on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, where she first took up football six years earlier with the Tweed Coast Tigers, before her determination to become the best possible footballer resulted in a move to the more competitive Queensland league with Tweed Coolangatta. There, Evans was picked up by the Suns Academy and was doing double training sessions with the women’s side after her Under 15s sessions, something that would lead the talented teenager to eventually run out with the team in the seniors, Coolangatta Tweed Bluebirds. But all throughout, she had a tough decision to make, juggling her football with her surf lifesaving.
“It was kind of a hard decision because I grew up doing surf lifesaving since I was Under 6s and it was definitely a passion of mine but it got to a point around 16 where I wasn’t able to continue doing all the training that was necessary for surf lifesaving as well as backing up and playing football as well as I wanted to,” Evans said. “That’s when I had to make the decision that I think wanting to get drafted was what I wanted to pursue and then transitioned into playing a single sport and merging away from the surf club.”
Like many others, it was the social aspect that won Evans over, as well as the unique physicality with the sport that endeared her to stay, and commit to becoming the best possible player. Not only the enjoyment on the field, but also off it as well.
“I really loved playing with my mates,” Evans said. “I used to have the best fun before our games, we’d put on heaps of fun music and we’d all dance around and have lots of laughs. Playing good football around heaps of mates was a really exciting thing and I really enjoyed that. “Definitely the physicality with football as well, I think that’s a really cool aspect of the sport that we get to.”
Luckily for Evans, her decision paid off, making the All-Australian team as a 15-year-old and then earning a spot in the Queensland side over the coming years. Whilst the 2020 AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships were wiped out, the 2004-born Evans was able to get on the park for the Sunshine State’s sole Under 19s game this year. There, she picked up 12 disposals, three clearances, five tackles and booted a goal in Queensland’s loss, but loved the experience.
“I really, really enjoyed it. It opened my eyes to my competition and what I need to do to get drafted and obviously Victoria has kind of lead the way in football, and just seeing their level and being able to match my performance against theirs was really eye-opening and gave me something to inspire to,” Evans said. “I really loved it down in Melbourne, it was a really good trip and I’m glad we got to go down there for at least one trip.”
Evans has a number of players she looks up to in the AFL Women’s lead by a couple of talented forwards for different reasons. The elite level competition really got her motivated into reaching the elite level and has been focused on learning as much as she can in the meantime.
“As soon as the AFLW became more popular I definitely started to watch more football,” she said. “Prior to that I really didn’t watch any, but watching footballers like Tayla Harris and Darcy Vescio. Darcy Vescio’s charisma, she’s really funny, great little forward. “Tayla Harris with her physicality and also being able to do boxing as well, it’s really inspiring.”
For someone who previously did not watch a lot of football, Evans has certainly tried to keep up-to-date with her peers and what she needs to do to be among the best players in her age group. Citing Georgie Prespakis as a player she enjoyed watching this year, Evans was disappointed she did not get to come up against her in the AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships. Queensland’s match with Vic Metro was cancelled due to border lockdowns, but Evans had caught glimpses of Prespakis online and said she was an “awesome player to watch” and hoped to bring the recently drafted Cats player’s ground ball ability into her own game.
“I do try to watch some (footy), especially girls similar to my age and just getting a grip on what I need to do, and what the competition is like, what the skills are like,” she said. “I think it’s good to watch and learn from your peers.”
As for her own strengths and improvements, Evans is in-tune with what she is capable of as an inside midfielder, not afraid to win the hardball, and is looking to work on her overall endurance to be able to impact matches for longer periods of time.
“I definitely think my actual strength is a good aspect, it really helps me get in and get the ball out of congestion, take tackles and put tackles on,” Evans said. “And my kicking ability, I think I have a good kick.
“Definitely my aerobic capacity (is an improvement). “To use my skill more efficiently, I think I have to be more fitter to get to more contests and I can help the girls out, do more on the field and just become more involved. “So definitely my overall fitness.”
Keep an eye out tomorrow for Part II of Evans’ journey, focused on the setbacks of 2021 and how she has dealt with the challenges.
Picture credit: David Layden Photography