Category: VFLW

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.

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.”

Lagioia loves team aspect of footy

COLLINGWOOD premiership player, Gemma Lagioia has been in and around Australian rules football for more than a decade and her ability to do some magical things with ball-in-hand attest to her experience. The Oakleigh Chargers’ talent has risen through the program and put together a consistent season, winning the club’s best and fairest award and not looking out of place at Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) level.

“I started playing Auskick but I don’t really know why, I just wanted to and I did,” Lagioia said at the NAB League Fitness Testing Day. “I just played from Under 9s to 13s with the boys, then started playing girls.”

The team aspect of the sport kept the talented utility playing, as she rose through the ranks to now be in her top-age year on the verge of being drafted into the AFL Women’s competition.

“I love just being in a team, working with other girls and having fun and then just going out and playing games and doing your best,” Lagioia said.

Despite being nimble around the stoppages, Lagioia said her speed was an area she wanted to improve, particular her acceleration to gain separation from her opponents. She showed her improvement throughout the VFLW finals series, becoming not only a contributor for the Magpies, but one of their best on Grand Final Day.

The off-season provided plenty of change for the Chargers in the NAB League Girls with so many new faces around the club that Lagioia admitted was difficult at first to get her head around.

“I think we’ve improved a lot, there’s a lot of new girls that are just going to make our team better this year,” she said. “I think it was different at the start, learning a bunch of new peoples’ names and getting to know them but now we’re closer as a team so it’s better.”

While Lagioia said she hoped to play finals with the Chargers, Oakleigh narrowly missed out, instead finishing fifth but showing plenty of improvement on their 2018 season. But her finals goal was met when she ran out at Ikon Park in the black and white stripes, eventually standing on the dais post-game with a premiership medal around her neck. Lagioia’s premiership coach Penny Cula-Reid praised the young gun along with a couple of her Chargers’ teammates in the lead-up to the VFLW finals series.

“You see these young 18-year-olds coming through and they’re just bloody superstars,” Cula-Reid said. “You get them when they’re coming off a championships up in Queensland and we’ve got Gemma Lagioia, Nicola Xenos and Amelia Van Oosterwijck who unfortunately did her ankle, but these are the kids who have been playing high-level football at the highest possible level they can at such a young age and they just bring a completely different dynamic into our team. “We’re just really excited for them and all the other 18-year-olds who are playing through the finals series, and obviously the draft is coming up so no better time to see them in action than the finals series.”

Lagioia’s talent is clear and unfortunately the Magpies are resigned to losing the classy player, with their first pick not until Pick 67. But one thing is for sure, based on her ability to step up at each level, Lagioia will soon adapt to the style of AFL Women’s regardless of the colours she wears.

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.

Lesosky-Hay blessed for the opportunities

BY her own admission, Luka Lesosky-Hay has felt very lucky. The balanced midfielder has followed the women’s football pathway at the right time, moving through the system as it continually grew, picking up a premiership with the Geelong Falcons, earning Vic Country representation, and playing Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) for the Geelong Cats. Now Lesosky-Hay hopes she has another chapter to add at the AFL Women’s Draft.

“I started playing when I was eight-years-old,” Lesosky-Hay said. “In my hometown in Aireys (Inlet) there was a team and I was friends with lots of the boys when I was younger, so I sort of just wanted to play. “I guess I’ve sort of kept going and was playing with the boys for a while and while I’d been playing the women’s footy kept developing and I was lucky enough to get picked up by Falcons really early on and stay with them for the last three years. “Then get to do Vic Country and then with the VFL and as I said, I feel like it’s just kept progressing as I’ve been playing so I’ve been really lucky to keep going through it all.”

Her NAB League Girls season where she averaged 19.5 disposals, 2.2 marks, 2.5 inside 50s and 5.0 tackles from 10 games saw the top-age player earn a Vic Country spot to travel up to the Gold Coast for the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships.

“It was massive because I really, really wanted it and I was super happy to get to go up to Queensland was pretty awesome,” Lesosky-Hay said. “It was also a big wake up as to how high the standard is. “I’d been playing in NAB League which is obviously a high standard but then taking it to the next level and seeing how many really, really good players there were was pretty awesome and eye-opening.”

Upon return, Lesosky-Hay also got a taste of senior football, running out for the Cats on three occasions, showing her defensive pressure with an averaged of 5.7 tackles per game to accompany her 8.7 disposals. She said it was very different to playing at Under 18s level.

“Bigger bodies, so it was also really nerve-wracking starting it all,” Lesosky-Hay said. “But they were super supportive and it was a different style of game I feel like, but also more exciting again because it’s taking it to another level where you take it against people who have been playing for even longer or who are bigger than you and so you had to really step up and I think that was really cool.”

Her season across the multiple competitions earned her enough interest from recruiters for a National Draft Combine invitation, something she said she was surprised with, not that being surprised was surprising anymore with the opportunities that were presented to her throughout her career.

“Pretty amazing,” Lesosky-Hay said of the combine invitation. “I mean I sort of with everything I keep getting really surprised and grateful for the new opportunities and this sort of stuff and I’m hoping to get the most out of this week as I can, and it’s also awesome seeing everyone from nationals again and it’s really cool.”

Lesosky-Hay has always been a dedicated worker and is determined to continue building her strengths, and improving the deficiencies in her game.

“I’m quite strong in one-on-ones contest as I play inside mid a lot,” she said. “My strength over the ball and clean hands when I’m picking it up and when I get my opportunity, my kick is generally pretty accurate and long. “I want to keep improving on my confidence and knowing how much time and space I have so I can take the game on a little bit more and also building on my repeat running and get as fit as I possibly can and keep going.”

Having had brief chats with various recruiters throughout her time, Lesosky-Hay admitted there were no guarantees when it came to the draft, and it prompted her to nominate all of Victoria for the upcoming AFL Women’s Draft, rather than just Geelong.

“They (recruiters) basically all have to say is that they can’t say anything for sure because it’s such a crazy thing on the day as well with people getting picked from everywhere, so you can’t really know at all,” Lesosky-Hay said. “I went for Vic because I personally want to come up to Melbourne as well and leave down from home as well so I thought I’d give myself the best opportunity as well to have a wider spectrum of clubs to be able to look at me. “So I went all of Victoria.”

It is not just an on-field decision to potentially move to Melbourne, but one for her future career.

“I’d love to do uni up there (in Melbourne),” Lesosky-Hay said. “Probably not straight away, but I want to study art and lots of really great art schools are in Melbourne, so if I do study it I will definitely be coming up to Melbourne.”

Lesosky-Hay said she had plenty of role models over the journey, and while many have those who have forged the path to the AFL Women’s competition, the Geelong midfielder said it was anyone involved in her journey.

“I guess it’s been hard because at the start when I was playing there wasn’t really women football players, so I guess I looked up to my teammates and now again with role models coming up,” she said. “I love the game style of people like Ellie Blackburn who I’ve watched the last few years. “But to be honest my role models have been the people around me as we’ve all been going through it and experiencing it as it comes.”

Wood tackles all challenges in top-age year

AFTER missing out on the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships last year due to injury, Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels’ Ella Wood was not going to let anything stop her missing her top-age championships. The tough inside midfielder earned her place in Vic Country’s side for the championships following a NAB League Girls season where she averaged 13.5 disposals and 2.4 tackles from eight games at the Rebels. Playing all three matches up on the Gold Coast, Wood had the six touches per game and 3.7 tackles, not afraid to throw herself into contests, something she has become renowned for. But her journey has been much longer than just 18 months.

“I started about 12 years ago playing Auskick, I went to one of my brother’s games and it looked like heaps of fun and it was different to all the other girls and I just wanted to be more involved,” Wood said.

Wood has plenty to love about the game she plays, but also the team she plays for, admitting at the NAB League Fitness Testing Day in the pre-season that the Rebels were a great group to be involved with at junior level.

“Probably the team work and having people there to encourage you and get you step up more and being part of the team is just wonderful,” Wood said. “The communication we (Rebels) have with everyone and the bond. “All us girls we all get along and the coaches are really supportive as well so it brings us all together.”

In the pre-season, Wood hoped to step up into the leadership role she had and grow her confidence as the season went on, assisting close friend and captain Sophie Molan.

“I’ve been picked in the leadership team this year for the Rebels and I hope this is my chance to step up and show what kind of leader I am and what I can actually do,” Wood said.

While Wood was unable to play finals in the NAB League Girls competition, the Rebels’ midfielder and Molan both helped the Western Bulldogs reach a Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) Grand Final. Ultimately going down to Collingwood in the decider, Wood showed she could hold her own against bigger bodies and was just as fierce with her tackling on the day. Throughout the VFLW season where Wood managed seven games, she averaged 4.1 tackles to go with her 6.7 disposals, often named as the 23rd player or rotating in multiple positions.

With the football done and dusted, and Wood earning a National Draft Combine invitation and completing that phase of her year, now it is a waiting game to see if the uncompromising hard-edged inside midfielder can land at an AFL Women’s club for 2020.

Sheppard follows sisters to grasp opportunities

FOLLOWING in the footsteps of her older sisters, Paige Sheppard was lucky enough to already have people she could lean on in the female football pathway. The Geelong Falcons’ top-ager earned Vic Country selection after a strong year, which then followed on by a National Draft Combine invitation. Speaking at the combine, Sheppard recalled how her football journey came about.

“My two older sisters played footy so I always grew up watching them and I didn’t play, but a couple of games they were low for numbers so I just filled in for the team and then I just ended up playing and that was about four or five years ago,” Sheppard said. “I always grew up watching them, I was always kicking the footy but I always had them so it was a way to get into it. “I just kept playing and my sister as well, she played for Falcons and we both got into it together and from there it just grew.”

Sheppard has come a long way in 2019, with her decision making and ability to hit targets inside 50 among her self-proclaimed strengths, while the 159cm prospect hopes to develop her initial speed and using her body more effectively against her opponents. While her sisters have been mentors along the journey to pave the way for her, a premiership teammate has been her biggest inspiration.

Lucy McEvoy (is my inspiration),” she said. “I started the Falcons with her and she’s just been one you always look up to as a leader and as a player you always just want to be.”

After averaging 17.1 disposals, 2.0 marks, 4.6 inside 50s and 4.5 tackles in season 2019 with the Geelong Falcons, Sheppard was named in Vic Country’s squad to play at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships.

“It was a very different experience playing against the best in Australia,” Sheppard said. “It was a step up, but it was very beneficial experience.”

There, Sheppard helped herself to 11.3 disposals per game, also kicking a goal for her state as Vic Country won all three games in the second series after going down to their metropolitan counterparts a few weeks earlier. Her performances throughout the year earned her a combine invitation, something Sheppard admits came as a surprise.

“It was a definitely a surprise,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting it. “But I guess it was just a look into the future.”

Sheppard has nominated all of Victoria to give herself the best chance of landing at an AFL Women’s club for 2020. While many aspiring draftees might move around due to university or further studies, the talented midfielder is yet to know what she wants to do off-field, still weighing up her choices.

“Well footy is definitely in my future career, but with school and uni, I haven’t quite worked that out and I’m just taking it as it comes,” she said.

Having also tasted experience against senior opposition with Geelong’s Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) side, Sheppard said the “very different” experience against “bigger bodies” was a “good opportunity” for herself and she was determined to knuckle down and work hard to win the respect of her future teammates if she was to be selected. If not, she would keep battling away saying the opportunities she had been afforded had helped her improve tremendously, and having more teams in the AFL Women’s would be “beneficial” for everyone.

“Yeah definitely, just all the Vic Country, VFL, it just makes you improve as a player playing against the best,” she said. “I feel like it’s very beneficial for us and it’s a good opportunity that we have quite a few options, not just a couple of teams to look forward to.”