Category: NAB League Girls

Barba tackles any challenge thrown her way

DEFENSIVE pressure has been the barometer that Calder Cannons’ Alana Barba sets every week, with the ferocious midfielder striking fear into the hearts of opposition players when they have the ball in her area. The tenacious talent from Roxburgh Park averaged 7.1 tackles per game for the Cannons in the NAB League Girls competition, and considering what her improvement was at the start of the season, it is a remarkable feat.

“Just getting to every single contest (is an improvement I want to make),” Barba said at the NAB League Fitness Testing Day in the pre-season. “I’ve had a hard time doing that so I just want to improve on that, that’s my main focus.”

For Barba, she has always been involved in and around the code, having risen through the pathways to land at the Cannons, and admitted it was quite an eye-opener compared to local football with the elite pathway getting the recognition it deserved.

“I’ve been playing since I was little, but only came to Calder Cannons three years ago and from there, it’s just built up,” Barba said. “It’s (playing with Calder) a great experience. “It’s a new experience, it’s at a higher standard so you really have to push yourself to get in line with all the girls as well.”

Like many AFL Women’s Draft hopefuls, Barba said it was the social element that kept her in the sport, while she was always determined for her and which club she played for, to continue to improve throughout the season.

“I think just the connection we have with all the girls is just, our friendship is something out of this world, that’s the best part about it,” Barba said. “I think just to be successful and to develop as a whole.”

Along with her tackling feast in the NAB League Girls, Barba earned a place in Vic Metro’s squad for the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships, where she averaged 3.3 tackles from 6.7 disposals. Then, if anyone questioned whether she could apply the same defensive pressure against senior bodies for Essendon’s Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) side, then she answered that emphatically. In three games for the club, Barba laid 4.3 tackles per game from 6.8 disposals, making her total across all three competitions and impressive 5.8 tackles from 10.1 disposals.

Now Barba is ready for the next step-up with her focus set on the AFL Women’s, which could become a reality at next week’s AFL Women’s Draft.

Theodore hoping to emulate Prespakis’ journey to AFLW

CALDER Cannons product, Felicity Theodore proved to be a lynchpin in defence using her nimbleness and speed to evade players and burst away from the pack time and time again. Signed with Essendon VFLW, Theodore aspires to follow the same path of those before her in particular, NAB Rising Star Maddy Prespakis who introduced her to the sport.

“I got into footy through Maddy Prespakis who plays for Carlton. She actually pulled me over one training session and was like ‘come to training’ so that’s how I started,” she said.

Prespakis had a continued influence on Theodore, captaining her last season and leading from the front both on the footy field and off the park.

“I hope to follow Maddy’s footsteps and get drafted but I’m just at the moment hoping to have a really good season and enjoy myself,” she said.

The Rising Star proved to be an inspiration for Theodore who credited her effort on the field and sheer class while also highlighting her importance at the Cannons throughout their time together.

“It was amazing, every game she just gave 120 per cent and it was so inspiring to see,” she said.

The nippy defender worked tirelessly throughout the year securing a spot in the National Championships with Vic Metro credit to her gut running, versatility and ability to break lines and while she has a spot with Essendon’s VFLW side is aware of elements she must improve.

“Definitely my quick kicks so like just getting kicks and really trying to hit up a target,” she said.

She relished the new opportunities throughout the 2019 season, taking the younger players under her wing and capitalising on her chances to impact across the ground.

“I’m just looking forward to this season as a whole and being able to play with my teammates, the coaching staff that are amazing and just to improve my game,” she said at the NAB League Fitness Testing Day earlier this year.

Theodore’s move from the attacking 50 to defence paid dividends with the talented small making the Vic Metro side. In the NAB League Girls competition, Theodore averaged 8.3 disposals, 2.0 tackles and more than a rebound per game, but it is her speed and dare to create options up the field that set her apart. She played a similar role for Vic Metro, running hard for almost identical statistics, and holding her own against the nation’s most talented players.

Then returning to Victoria, Theodore tasted Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) experience with Essendon, where she averaged 8.3 disposals and 3.3 tackles, not afraid to throw herself into the contest against stronger bodies. Now with some good form behind her throughout the season across three different levels, Theodore is hoping to join Prespakis in the AFL Women’s.

“Natural footballer” Vella determined to succeed

DESPITE standing at about 156cm, Geelong Falcons’ Elise Vella has a big impact every time she is out on the field thanks to her ability to think through plays quickly and move nimbly around the ground. Vella showed she is adaptable this year, playing across three different levels with Geelong and Vic Country.

“We started off with Geelong Falcons, we got in the prelim, did pretty well but unfortunately we lost,” Vella said. “From there, it was Vic Country where we lost our game to Metro but won all our games in Queensland, and from there we played a few games with Geelong VFLW club.”

Change is no problem for Vella who has a passion for Australian rules football, enjoying the team atmosphere that the code brings. That, along with her ability to evade opponents and create separation credit to her agility and speed, make it the perfect combination for a player driven to reach the highest possible heights.

“I just like playing, I just love the sport, love footy so much, love playing with my friends, it’s so nice,” Vella said. “I think because of my size, my speed is one of my strengths. “I like the agility and 20m sprint the bests. I think because I’m a smaller player I like being more agile.”

Playing for the Falcons, Vella averaged 10.6 disposals, 1.1 marks and 2.3 inside 50s per game this year, being that outside runner in transition, winning the ball in space and putting it forward for her team to hit the scoreboard. She also averaged a couple of tackles per game, showing she is capable of applying great defensive pressure as well.

Vella said she was hoping to work on her confidence and strength around the contest, something she had been developing as a member of the Rookie Me Academy. While many players might be daunted fronting up to the NAB League Fitness Testing Day in the pre-season, it was a different feeling for Vella, who knew plenty of faces with the testing day hosted by Rookie Me at Maribyrnong College.

“It’s really good to be familiar with some of the team around here when you come in,” Vella said.

The quick winger has had an impact on the Rookie Me Academy, with Head of High Performance Darcy Waugh describing Vella as a “natural footballer”.

“Elise has so much natural ability, she seems like a natural ball winner,” Waugh said. “She moves really well and just finds the ball. Despite her size, she’s an attractive prospect because of how she plays. “What I tell other people is she makes the players around her better.”

Now with her top-age year in the books, Vella is a player with a big future, whichever level it may be at, but if she is to be drafted into the AFL Women’s, Vella said she would not hold back once at a club.

“I think I can offer a great personality and put in 100 per cent effort for everything that I do,” she said.

Jolliffe bouncing back from injury

FOR Bendigo Pioneers’ Jordyn Jolliffe, it has been a rocky road to success with plenty of bumps along the way. Halted in her Aussie rules tracks as an 11-year-old, Jolliffe made the switch to netball before finding her way back to the sport.

“I started in Auskick, wasn’t really a fan of netball and most of my friends were boys,” Jolliffe said. So I started there, played until Under 11s and then I wasn’t allowed to play anymore so I went over to netball,” “Then I found out that there was a girl’s league in Swan Hill starting up close to home so jumped on board with that and started playing again. Then I got picked into the Bendigo Pioneers and it sort of escalated from there.”

While being told she could not play was a big blow, nothing could prepare Jolliffe for injury in 2018, forcing her to sit on the sidelines for the entire season.

“I had a stress fracture in my lower-back so I missed last year unfortunately,” Jolliffe said. “I wasn’t allowed to do anything, because with a stress fracture you’ve got to let it mend itself. “So I sat out for the year and missed pre-season and then at the start of the year I had to just do my own programs to try and build my fitness back before the (NAB League) season started and I got to go into the Bendigo Pioneers as an over-ager.”

With fitness something Jolliffe wanted to work on coming into 2019, she said her strengths were “probably overhead marking and my kick”.

Injury may have thrown a spanner in the works, but Jolliffe did everything in her power to bounce back despite missing pre-season. She certainly reaped the reward, earning a call-up to the Eastern Allies for the 2019 AFL Women’s Championships.

“It was very hard because obviously all the others did pre-season and to get back into it behind a bit, but that’s then just more work you have to do behind the scenes,” she said. “After the first two games it was a lot better, like game fitness, you probably can’t really train for game fitness. So the first game I struggled a little bit and then after that it was good to be back.”

“It is an awesome opportunity. I never thought I would actually get to play this carnival again after the injury but yeah, just overwhelmed with (getting) picked back into it.”

The New South Wales native from Balranald played NAB League in her junior years with Bendigo Pioneers but nominated NSW/ACT in the women’s national draft.

“(It was) a lot of travelling for me,” Jolliffe said. When I played for Bendigo that was three hours away from home and if you played in Melbourne that’s another four and a half, so always travelling, training and everything, it’s always a long distance.”

Like many, Jolliffe hopes to make it to the big stage of AFL Women’s, citing Erin Phillips as one of her influences.

“I’ve always loved Joel Selwood or Gary Ablett,” she said. But for the women, Erin Phillips. I just think I would love to be like her. “Yeah, try and make the AFL Women’s, that’d be a dream come true.”

Chapman’s unassuming rise to success

“STAND there and don’t touch the ball.”

They were the first words uttered to Geelong Falcons’ Abbey Chapman when she stepped onto a football ground for the first time. It might have been a bit abrupt and imposing had the words not come from a familiar face.

“My sister told me to stand there and don’t touch the ball so I just stood on the field and watch the ball roll past me,” Chapman said. “It’s probably not my favourite (moment), but my most memorable thing.”

Since standing there and not touching the ball on the field in her first game for Bell Park, Chapman has shot up the ranks, making it into the Geelong Falcons side and Vic Country. But it is the close bond between teammates that has kept her in the sport she loves.

“Just playing with all the girls, especially here at Falcons,” she said. “Everyone’s really nice and welcoming. “I just love playing with different girls and it’s just a great sport.”

The reliable defender admitted she was much more adept in defence, given it is where she has always played, and enjoyed.

“Mainly full-back because I guess that’s just where I mainly play, but obviously just the backline,” Chapman said. “(I’m) not good at kicking goals or anything so I stick to my backline.”

She has been working on being the best defensive player she can be, while also providing good rebound out of the back half. Chapman said her strengths vary, depending on the day.

“It kind of depends,” she said. “Because sometimes it can be my kick, I feel like I have a high and strong kick. “Sometimes marking, other days probably not, but yeah just a few things, not anything in particular. “(My improvements are) more sticking with my player. “I’m good at dropping back and going back to the square so I’m just going to try and work on sticking with my player and punching if my player is going to mark it, so just trying to stop my player from getting as much of the ball as I can.”

Chapman enjoys playing at any level and has been a reliable player inside the defensive 50, showing she has what it takes to match it with the best players from across the country.

“It’s always fun playing with a high quality of football so yeah looking forward to meeting heaps of new girls from other clubs and everything like that,” Chapman said.”

Her ultimate goal is to run out for an AFL Women’s side next year.

“Yeah if I can get there,” she said. “I’ll push myself as hard as I can and hopefully I can get to that level.”

King emerges from Apple Isle

FOR 18-year-old Tasmanian Mia King, it has not been a traditional route to this level, but it has certainly found her well with plenty of opportunity once she opted to follow the Australian rules football pathway in high school.

“I started (when) one of the PE (physical education) teachers at school came up to me – and it was like a school team – he asked if I wanted to get involved and I said yes,” King said. “So it started off as a bit of fun for like a school club, East Launceston, and then I went away on the Kickstart program, started getting selected for (representative teams) and that’s when it really took off. “Then I obviously got selected for the Allies three years ago and yeah, it’s just been getting bigger each year I guess.”

The talented midfielder shared Eastern Allies captaincy in 2019, her third year with the side. King credits the privilege of working with her teammates as something that spurs her on, with her confidence growing from every match.

“This (was) my third Allies trip,” she said. “On the first one I was so young, so nervous and now I feel completely relaxed and comfortable around everyone and definitely it’s really helped me grow as a person being on the trips. “Obviously I was always the one looking up to the bigger girls and now vice-captaining the Allies this year has been a massive privilege and it’s just really great to be able to talk to the girls like that.”

AFL Tasmania has a direct affiliation with North Melbourne in the AFL Women’s, something King said is a massive step in the right direction for juniors aspiring to AFLW greatness.

“It’s so exciting,” she said. “There wasn’t a pathway for any kids and now we’ve got an affiliation with North Melbourne, we’re getting home games down at UTAS and North Melbourne and it’s really exciting to see for the younger girls in Tasmania that there is an opportunity for AFLW at an elite level. “We actually got to train with North Melbourne in our pre-season. We trained with them once a week, so I’ve been training with Daria (Bannister) and the Haines’ (twins Chloe and Libby) which is really good because you’re seeing them at that elite level and being in that environment is really good for development for the younger girls coming through.”

Tasmania had another massive opportunity in 2019, playing three matches in the NAB League Girls as the Tasmania Devils. King averaged 19.7 touches, 4.7 tackles and three inside 50s across the three games.

“I like to just attack the ball, get the footy, I’m a hunter I guess,” she said. “Obviously with NAB League this was the first year they had the Tasmania Devils for the girls so it was really exciting. “We got to (fly) over to Melbourne and play a few games in the NAB League. “I think it was really good for our skill development because I think it really helped us in Blacktown when we came to New South Wales.”

“So it was just really good and I think next year they’re planning to have even more games – like eight or nine – this year we only had like two or three, and trying to get some home games down there,” King said. “Vic’s got a lot of talent and we’ve just got to try and look at their play, learn their strengths but also just focus on our strengths as well.”

With plenty of strong talent across Australia, King said improvement is key with skill development in the works.

“I reckon my skill development still needs improving and I’m trying to keep working on my kicking,” she said. “So I reckon just working on the skills and obviously I was a bit sick at the start of the year so my fitness isn’t really where I want it to be, but I’m just working on that to get it up. “It’s really exciting, I’ve just got to keep working on my skills, fitness and just see what happens.”

Douglass dedicated to self-improvement

AIMING to just improve and develop her game regardless of her future post-AFL Women’s Draft next week, Bendigo Pioneers’ Kate Douglass is a player who has always been in and around football and that is not likely to change any time soon.

“I started off just kicking with my dad and brother because my brother played a lot of footy and dad played a lot footy growing up,” Douglass said. “Then I was asked to go into the South Bendigo girl’s team and from there I was also asked to join the Bendigo Pioneers and that really pushed my footy journey into (playing) some really high-grade footy games. “Then I was able to try-out with the Vic Country team, look at all those amazing players and play with them.”

Douglass has become a main-stay in the Bendigo Pioneers side over the last couple of years, predominantly in defence, where she shutdown opposition forwards deep under pressure. Being under pressure against an opponent is something Douglass thrives on and could offer at the elite level.

“I did a lot with the kick-outs in the backline and I felt that I was able to push the ball past the 50 to get to really push it into the forward line so I was really happy with that,” Douglass said. “I’d like to say I did well in the defensive one-on-ones because I do love that competitive tussle in footy.”

Douglass knew as a top-age player this year, she would have to be more vocal in such a young side and direct the defenders ahead of her.

“I really think communication is an important thing,” Douglass said. “I am quite shy but I do try my best to speak out loud and… allow the girls to see what I can see because I’m at full back, so I can tell them what’s on their left or right. “Also, being able to push the ball out when it’s in contested areas to get it out and make sure it keeps going.”

Since the NAB League Girls season finished, Douglass took the opportunity to run out with Williamstown in the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition, a chance she relished.

“That was amazing,” Douglass said. “It definitely took me a while to (take) it all in because it was much more aggressive and so much more competitive but I’ve really loved playing against those (more mature) girls because it really pushed my strengths and showed my weaknesses and what I can improve on, which was really good. “It was about a two-hour drive up (to Williamstown) which was hard sometimes but I quite enjoyed it because I was able to have a break from school and just sit in the car with my mum and just listen to music so it was not too bad.”

While the travel has certainly been a big factor in her career, Douglass knew there was no way she could travel to the various venues for her sporting love without the support of her parents.

“Definitely the first big one (inspiration) was my family because they pushed me to be who I am today and they really inspire me to keep going with everything that I can do,” Douglass said. “But I’ve got to say for Vic Country and Williamstown all the girls from the teams really inspired me because they were so much more experienced and I was able to learn off them. “And then definitely the coaches from both sides, they got me to see what I was actually capable of and what I could improve which was again a really good new experience for me to see that come forward.”

Running out for the Seagulls, Douglass said she was excited about sharing the relatively unknown forward line alongside veteran goal kicker, Mo Hope who was representing the blue and gold this year.

“I got to play a couple of games with Mo Hope, which really opened my eyes and it was really good because she talked to me about positioning myself in certain areas when I was in the forward line, because I (played) a bit in the forward line at Williamstown which was definitely new for me because I played back all my life,” Douglass said. “But she really got me to try new things in the forward line and push myself to lead and be confident with my ability.”

Douglass said she was keen to take the next step up into AFL Women’s and did not have a preference where she went, but she knows if she is not to be picked, it is not the be-all and end-all.

“I’m honestly not really fussed because I think it would be amazing if I got to that level,” Douglass said. “I do support Essendon Bombers which would be great if there was a team but honestly I’m not fussed because I think any team would be amazing. “I’m just really trying to focus on continuing my improvement with footy and learning and all those new experiences because I haven’t had a lot of elite exposure and when I got to Williamstown and Vic Country, that really opened my eyes. “So just continuing down that path wherever it will lead me so I can learn more is really all I’m looking forward to.”

Webber making waves

GIPPSLAND Power product Nikia Webber has high hopes for the future with the 18-year-old in her fourth season with the club and dreaming to get drafted in the near future if everything goes to plan. After telling us her footballing story growing up, she spoke prior to the NAB League Girls season about her dreams for the year ahead.

“By the end of the year I hope to get drafted, obviously that’s every girls dream. Just go hard, show the other teams what I have,” she said.

Webber has seen first-hand how far footy can take you with former teammate and Power captain Tyla Hanks playing with the Melbourne Demons in the AFLW. The crafty forward credits a lot of her development to Hanks and the influence she has had on her footy life.

“Yeah obviously playing alongside Tyla was a really good opportunity I learnt a lot from her and to see her actually killing it on the big stage as well is really good for her,” she said.

She has drawn the eye of plenty of people in the footy world getting a call up to the Vic Country squad at a young age due to her goal sense and ability to have an impact across the ground.

“It was a pretty good experience especially because I was 16 at the time so one of the bottom-agers and actually getting to run out wearing those colours was just the best thing that could happen,” she said.

Throughout her time with the Power, Webber has learnt a great deal of things with leadership one of the key elements of her development on the field.

“Just be a good leader for all those young ones that want to come through the program and actually lead by example for those younger girls in under 13s that actually want to make something out of this,” she said.

She has added some versatility to her game play making the switch down back when needed while also perfecting her craft up forward to ensure she has a continued influence on the scoreboard.

“Yeah I’ve always played forward but last year I actually played a bit of backline as well so that was a really big change,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about that position but one game the coach was like “oh you’ve got to go into the backline” so a bit nervous going into that. “But he said I did really well which was good.”

Webber has enjoyed the opportunity to mentor and foster the new up and coming players at Gippsland while soaking in the environment at the club over the past year, especially last season.

“All the new girls that came in you sort of just have to mentor them through the program because I’ve been there for so long,” Webber said. “It was a pretty cruisey year last year, it was really good actually. “A lot of the girls you wouldn’t think stand up did so it actually made the year pretty fun and enjoyable.”

Webber is aware there is still plenty she can improve on to become the best footballer she can be with aiming to go in harder at the contest and upping her work rate to have an impact at the coalface.

“Yeah the team improved massively, obviously I improved as well,” she said. “So the few years before that I didn’t really stand out wasn’t really going for the ball or anything was just sort of laid back but last year I actually felt like I was part of the team and could actually show my skills. “There’s a lot of things to get better on and obviously because no one is perfect so everything that you don’t think’s good during the season just work on that.”

Harley provides leadership target for Chargers

IN a much improved season compared to last, Oakleigh Chargers had plenty of top-age players and bottom-age players who experienced their first taste of NAB League Girls action the year before and came into the season much better prepared. One of the leaders of that group was Emily Harley who provided not only a strong marking target up forward, but a leader on the field who could also push up the ground and play through the midfield.

“I started back in Auskick when I was seven,” Harley said. “Dad loves his footy and my whole family does and they all started it for me. “(I love) just getting around the girls. “Footy is a huge team so 22 of us. “I just love getting around them and talking to them.”

Harley said the team was focused on playing a faster brand of football in season 2019, which they certainly did with the likes of Nicola Xenos and Alana Porter providing the dash on the outside that broke the lines and almost earned Oakleigh a spot in the finals series. For Harley personally, it was about building her endurance to allow her to play more midfield minutes, something she has been working on since the pre-season.

“It (pre-season) was good, nice and tough,” Harley said. “We had a lot more focus on strength and conditioning side this year so it was good. “You knew what you were going to get when you went up and it was going to be a hard session so it was good. “I think the coaching staff recognised last year in order to play our game we wanted, we needed to be fitter. So we really focused on that this pre-season.”

Compared to the previous season, Harley was buoyant about the team’s improvement, something that showed on the field.

“I think we’ve got a lot more depth this year to last year, so I think any girl could go out of the team and the same one could come in and perform just as well,” Harley said. “We’ve definitely improved on our ball handling and our skills and then our depth as well.”

Harley said she was “honoured” to be voted vice-captain for season 2019, and hoped she could “get around the girls” to keep their morale high on the way to achieving the goal of winning more games than they did the season before. They did just that and looked all but certain to make finals with two rounds to go, before dropping a heartbreaker to bottom two side, Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels in the penultimate round at Avalon Airport Oval.

While they finished fifth, Harley averaged 12.6 disposals and booted 13 goals from 10 games, at an average of 1.3 goals per game. More impressively, Harley was able to play up the ground, recording more rebounds than inside 50s, and averaging 2.5 tackles per game too. She earned a call-up to Vic Metro where she booted three goals on the Gold Coast at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships, averaging the six touches and two tackles playing in her more familiar forward role. Now the strong marking forward will wait and see if she can take the next step up into the AFL Women’s competition with the draft later this month.

Improved Georgostathis backs up sensational bottom-age year

IT is hard to imagine that a player who won their club’s best and fairest award in their bottom-age year could surprise you in their top-age one, but for Western Jets’ captain Elisabeth Georgostathis, she has gone to another level in 2019. Her numbers, influence, opportunities and testing show just that, with the tireless midfielder turned utility leaving no stone unturned in her goal to reach the AFL Women’s competition. But her journey all began down at St Albans.

“I saw my brothers playing, I started at a local club at East Keilor but they didn’t have enough girls,” Georgostathis said. “One of the coaches told me to come down to St Albans, started with them, changed to Spurs and then just got picked up by the Western Jets and started playing that.”

For Georgostathis, she could not have landed in a better place, praising the Jets for their development and social atmosphere around the club.

“It’s been so good,” she said. “Western Jets and just local, they’re both great experiences and I’ve loved playing with both of them, making new friends and learning new skills, it’s been really good.”

When the tough inside midfielder with the tackling presence was named the 2017 Western Jets Best and Fairest winner, she could hardly believe it herself.

“It was really good,” Georgostathis said. “Like I was surprised because we’ve got a lot of good girls in our team and it was just amazing.”

From there, she was named captain by her peers, an opportunity she said she was “grateful” for, and “really happy” that she was chosen as their leader. When you understand her mindset and strengths, it is no surprise she is a natural-born leader. When asked what she prided her game on, it was pretty simple.

“Just run hard and work hard, put all my effort in the whole game,” Georgostathis said. “If I get tired I know I can swap, go on the bench, have my rest and come back on hard and more determined.”

If there was a clear improvement for Georgostathis in 2019, it was to improve her kicking, which she admitted at the NAB League Fitness Testing Day was a real focus.

“(I want to improve) my kicking on the run,” she said. “Sometimes it just goes a bit off target and just trying to pinpoint that kick.”

At the same event, Georgostathis was just hoping to be picked up by a Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) side and put her best foot forward to play in the AFL Women’s competition next year. She ticked the first box, playing for Western Bulldogs and having a key role at half-forward and through the midfield on the pressure-cooker stage of finals. Now the second box is waiting to be ticked.

After a sensational season where she was one of Vic Metro’s best at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships – having been named emergency the year before – Georgostathis added more strings to her bow than just about any player, becoming a real standout off half-back for the Jets, before spending time forward for the Bulldogs. Now with the AFL Women’s Draft just a couple of weeks away, the tenacious onballer could be edging ever so close to her dream of playing at the elite level.