Tag: aflwu19s

Versatile Eldridge continues to “find her feet”

WITH only a couple of years of Australian football experience under her belt, North Adelaide utiltiy Jorja Eldridge has had plenty of learning to do in a short space of time. The 19-year-old Whyalla native hails from an ever-fabled basketball background, but committed to football last year and eventually cracked a very strong Roosters side in 2020, as a train-on player.

Eldridge played two SANFL Women’s games last year and added the same amount in 2021, while also earning a spot in South Australia’s Under 19 National Championships squad. Having moved down to Adelaide and taken up a part-time receptionist job at the club, she says she is now starting to “find [her] feet”.

“This season I’ve moved to Adelaide and I trained way more with North Adelaide in pre-season and in-season, so that’s helped me a lot,” Eldridge said.

“At the moment I’m studying exercise and sports science at university and I’m currently working as a casual receptionist at North Adelaide Football Club as well, so that’s taking up most of my time on top of football training.”

Having spent plenty of time around the club, Eldridge has also been able to lean on some key mentors and develop her own craft as a player who can impact across multiple positions. The 173cm prospect said she hadn’t “done too badly” once selected for North in Round 4, and in her three Under 19 carnival outings.

Krissie Steen (North Adelaide coach) told me I just need to keep running, so my sprint efforts are most important to improve on,” she said. “I’ve actually had a new position this season which was being a back-up ruck for North Adelaide, rotating forward and on-ball. With that I feel that I’ve had to develop my skills a lot more, going through the midfield and getting it into the forwardline as well.

“My mentor at North Adelaide has definitely (Steen)… she’s basically been my only coach for football so she has definitely helped me along my journey. Kristi Harvey has definitely taken me under her wing and showed me the ropes. Then obviously at a higher level, the likes of Anne Hatchard (are) really good with younger girls and other players, they’re really inspiring.”

A supporter of the Crows’ AFLW team, Eldridge looks towards Hatchard and Melbourne forward Tayla Harris for inspiration on her own game. While there are still areas for improvement, the talented multi-sport athlete has also been able to transfer some handy traits over from other codes.

“A strength of mine is that I’m able to really use my body well,” Eldridge said. “From a basketball and netball perspective, I’ve had to grow up with the one-on-one body contact and finding the player. I do struggle sometimes with finding my player in defence because I like to zone off and intercept the ball, but then coming to football it’s a bit harder to do that.

“Around the ground stoppages and in the ruck are definitely my strengths (too), and I’ve got pretty good distance on my kick.”

With the AFLW currently holding expansion talks, more and more South Australian prospects like Eldridge are well poised to get the chance to showcase their development at the highest level in years to come.

Evolving Evans interested in improving “everything”

2020 GREATER Western Sydney draftee Tarni Evans is a name you may already be familiar with. In 2021, her younger cousin Sally Evans is looking to join her in the top flight come AFLW Draft day, on Tuesday. The 17-year-old Queenslander represented her state this year, while also developing through the Gold Coast SUNS Academy and at QAFLW level.

Akin to her established cousin, Evans has good speed on the outer and moves forward well. With the similarities evident, she says Tarni has been a key source of inspiration along her own journey.

“Watching her journey from where she started to where she is now (has been inspiring),” Evans said. “She played nearly every position, they’ve thrown her around and she’s adapted so well. She had a really great season.

“I would say my speed is a strength as I predominantly play along the wing, and my ground level movement – especially crumbing in the forwardline.”

Evans started out in Australian football five years ago, playing all of her juniors at Coolangatta Tweed before eventually cracking the senior grade. After getting a couple of QAFLW games under her belt for the Blues, she transferred over to Bond University and added a few more outings before season’s end.

While Queensland was beaten handily to the tune of 54 points against Vic Country in its sole Under 19 championships match, Evans could not fault the team for effort. She was also glowing in her review of the SUNS Academy.

“Obviously we didn’t love the outcome that we received, but I think we tried our hardest,” Evans said. “We probably could’ve gone in respecting them a little bit more knowing how good of a team they were, but I think we did our best.

“I love the academy. Our head coach Sam (Iles) is awesome, he’s always wanting the best for us and always trying to give us as many opportunities as possible. All the girls are fantastic.”

Being drafted “for the SUNS or any team” is Evans’ end goal for this year, but she also has her sights on simply improving “everything” in her game. Learning game structure and sharpening her marking skills are top of the list, and would add to the promising arsenal of weapons she hopes to wield at the top level.

Rising Sun Davies learns from the best

NOT everyone gets the chance to talk footy with AFLW stars in between classes at school, but Gold Coast Academy prospect Giselle Davies is taking plenty of learnings out of that exact opportunity. The 18-year-old tall defender attends Southport State High School, where current Suns midfielder Jamie Stanton teaches.

While the two are quite different players, Davies says the mentorship of Stanton has been a valuable peek behind the curtain of what it takes to cut the AFLW grade.

“(Stanton) has been a teacher at my school for a few years now so I’ve definitely looked up to her,” Davies said. “I’m always talking to her about her games on the weekend and how she went. Obviously I watch a lot of her play and even though we don’t really play similar positions it’s good to have a mentor who you can talk to.”

The link is one of Davies’ many ties to the senior-listed Suns, having also come up through Gold Coast’s academy and initially being introduced to Australian football by a certain 2020 draftee.

“I started playing footy a few years ago, my best friend Annise Bradfield got me down to play,” she said. “I was playing heaps of touch football (and) netball, I went to a footy session and it was just a perfect mix of both of those sports. I loved it from there.

“I have loved every single part of playing with the Gold Coast Under 19s Academy. We did heaps of work in the off-season after last year – pre-season training in the heat, gym, running, just loving it.

“I’m really grateful that we have the academy that looks after us so well. There’s all this new talent coming through the pathway, it’s just amazing that they really give you a perspective on what you could have and what you’re working towards.”

Through her work in the pathway and form for Bond University in this year’s QAFLW season, Davies was also selected for Queensland representative honours in 2021. While the Maroons’ Under 19 squad went down by 54 points against Vic Country in their sole carnival outing, Davies took plenty away from what was “the highest level of footy [she’s] ever played.”

“It was probably the best weekend I’ve ever had,” she said. “Just playing with a bunch of girls that you don’t usually play with, people who want to be there and played as hard as they could. Despite the loss, it was such a good game of footy to be a part of and see the different ways that Vic play their game and how I can improve mine. It was really good.”

At 180cm, Davies is aware of her strengths and areas for improvement, with her decision making by foot already sound and her ability to utilise said size on the incline. Clunking more contested marks and having the confidence to take the game on are among the next steps to take, by her own assessment.

She is one of many Queensland talent hoping to end up on an AFLW list in just a few days, with the 2021 draft set to go down on Tuesday, July 27.

Draft hopeful Harmer looks to find “the best of both worlds”

IN the air and on the ground. Intercept marking combined with run-and-carry. That’s the kind of impact Maroochydore prospect Maggie Harmer aims to make across half-back. The versatile talent is in line to become one of the first Brisbane Lions Academy products called out on draft night, and has a pair of senior defenders to look up to.

Come July 27, Kate Lutkins and Nat Grider could go from idols to teammates for Harmer, who is hoping to harness their respective strengths in order to get “the best of both worlds” as a player.

“Kate has such a good intercept mark and Nat has also got that run-and-carry which is really good, so it’s the best of both worlds between them,” Harmer said.

With the long-term goal of simply improving as a player in mind, the 18-year-old recognises her strengths, but also her areas for improvement.

“Across half-back, (my strengths are) reading the play and taking intercept marks when the opposition is looking for those forward 50 entries and trying to cut off those long kicks,” Harmer said.

“I’m more of an (aerial) player, so my ground balls are always something I’ve wanted to work on, just clean pick-ups. Also my one-on-one contests, holding my own up against those bigger girls.”

Harmer has earned a raft of opportunities since being introduced to Australian football in her final years of primary school, culminating in AFLW Academy honours, Under 19 All Australian selection, and the opportunity to represent her state throughout 2021.

Harmer kicks Queensland forward during this year’s National Championships

Above all else, Harmer says the opportunity to test her skills and be challenged by the nation’s best talent provided some valuable tests and lessons.

“I didn’t think it was going to be that much of a flogging (against Vic Country),” she said. “But the score didn’t really represent the contest.

“(AFLW Academy training) is big challenge because it’s another step to what we’re used to at club training and even academy. But I think it really pushes you to be the best player you can be and try to keep up with those older girls that are playing at such a high level.”

In their only National Championships dig for 2021, Queensland’s Under 19s went down to Vic Country by 54 points down in Melbourne, but Harmer was able to showcase some of her best traits with 15 disposals, five marks and five tackles.

Her ability to turn attack into defence with that aforementioned intercept game, as well as positive forward running makes Harmer a productive type. Queensland talent manager Mark Browning also gave a glowing review, boding well not just for draft night, but for her impact on the game in years to come.

“She’s probably the one that excites me the most when she trains,” Browning said. “It hasn’t quite transpired to games yet, but I think she’s got the most natural running out of all of them.”

Competitive Venning used to putting in the “extra effort”

WINNING your club’s best and fairest award over the league and state Under 19s MVP is no mean feat, but it’s exactly what West Adelaide midfielder Zoe Venning pulled off in 2021. The tenacious ball winner was part of a strong Westies side which surged to this year’s SANFL Women’s grand final, averaging 16.5 disposals, 4.7 tackles, and 2.1 clearances across 12 games.

Having previously played netball at a high level, the 17-year-old says she knew exactly what it would take to be able to put in the “extra effort” required to make such strides at senior level.

“I was quite high up with my netball so I was used to putting the extra effort in off the field,” Venning said. “I always did my running… I know what it takes to put in hard work so that wasn’t something I was inexperienced with, it was more the age gap because I had always played with girls my age.

“Moving to SANFLW and playing with older girls matured my level of training, being a bit more mature was the biggest challenge.”

Venning credited her footballing journey to her dad, who encouraged her to “give it a go” having already excelled in netball and basketball. After starting out with the Mitcham Hawks, she fell in love with the game and soon found team success closer to home.

“I got to where I am now through my dad,” she said. “I first played at Mitcham Hawks when I was 13 and I didn’t want to play at all but dad said ‘come on Zoe, give it a go’ and I really liked it. My first game I got a lot of it, kicking off my shin but I just loved it.

“My dad wanted to make a girl’s program where I live, so he started up the Blackwood Football Club girl’s program and I’ve played there ever since and every year we’ve won the premiership. It’s just been such a good culture, all my best friends play there so that’s really how I started footy.”

Having started out scrubbing the ball off her shin, Venning has since added some polish to her game but remains a tough sort of ball winner who thrives at the contest. When outlining her strengths, the versatile talent was quick to list “contested ball wins” atop the tree.

“I really back myself,” she said. “I don’t really get intimidated by who I’m (against). I control if I’m going to get the ball or not, I’m not an outside receiver.

“I also think my marking’s quite strong. As a midfielder I can take a strong mark and be a link-up player, even on the kick-outs.”

Zoe Venning on the move for West Adelaide | Image Credit: On The Ball Media

Venning’s strengths made her a lock for SANFLW Team of the Year honours, and she brought the same kind of vigour to her state representative duties. With averages of 23 disposals, seven tackles, and four clearances per her three National Championship games, she also earned Under 19 All Australian status.

Speaking amid April’s Victorian leg of the carnival, she had both individual and team goals in mind.

“It’s been a really good achievement and I’m really excited just to show people what I’ve got,” she said. “I’m looking at it as an opportunity for me and the team to really utilise the talent we have in SA because it’s our standalone year.

“I’m just looking forward to showing my teamwork with others and it’s not just me, I want everyone to do well. But I still want to show that I am a strong player and I’m here to get drafted.”

While finding her way onto an AFLW list is the end goal, Venning is also seeking to succeed in her current Year 12 studies and knows missing out may not be the “be all and end all”. She also has a strong source of inspiration to look up to at the next level.

“An inspiration is Rachelle Martin, who was in my Westies team,” she said. “She inspires me because she worked so hard to get where she is now, playing for the Crows. “She’s a really hard worker, really nice, always caring to her teammates and that’s mainly what inspires me to keep going. I see her work ethic and I want to be like that.”

Come July 27 at the 2021 AFLW Draft, Venning has the chance to join Martin at Adelaide.

Maurer thrives on Tasmanian “team bond”

RETURNING for her second season of Tasmania Devils representation in 2021, there was a rise in “enjoyment” levels for tough midfielder-forward, Ella Maurer. The 19-year-old thrived across nine NAB League outings in her top-age campaign, averaging a tick under 17 disposals and five tackles as an integral part of the starting squad. She put much of her own, and the team’s success down to a rising “team bond”.

“We’ve really come together,” Maurer said. “We’ve been really united and it’s just been really enjoyable. Sometimes in previous years I found that it was a big sluggish getting to training but this year every training was enjoyable. All the coaches, staff and girls were great to be around.

“I love team sports, just the whole vibe and being out there with the girls.”

Through a consistent and much-improved NAB League campaign, Maurer was able to bring her own strengths to the fore and lean on her senior experience to provide a hard edge. She’s a player who loves the “aggression” of the game, which shows in the traits she says are her strengths, and areas for improvement.

“[My strength] is probably my attack on the ball,” she said. “Just being able to get in and get the ball out from contests and get the hands off to a teammate… [I’m working on] being cleaner and my skills, especially when I go down forward.

“I love to play in the midfield and rotate forward, I love to play down there as well. Even in the backline, I like to play some defensive footy so a bit of everything really.”

Maurer’s 2021 form saw her selected in the Allies squad, where she remained a constant ball winner and tough competitor, averaging 18 disposals, six tackles, and three clearances per her three games. The representative honours matched Maurer’s goals constantly “improving [her] game” and playing “at the highest level” possible.

She has plenty of examples to follow too, with former North Launceston captain Jodie Clifford a particular source of inspiration for the rising teenage prospect, having been there almost every step of the way.

“[Clifford] is just a really inspiring person and player as well,” Maurer said. “She’s one of the coaches for the Devils, the midfield coach, and I got to play footy with her at North Launceston. She was our captain and best and fairest both years that we played together.”

“I started playing footy when I was 14 in the junior youth girl’s team at North Launceston Football Club. I played there for two years, then went on to play in the TSLW team for North Launceston for the two years we had that. Unfortunately that folded so now I’m at Old Scotch in the NTFA.”

A raft of Tasmanians also joined Maurer in North Melbourne’s VFLW side this year, with as many as 11 of them getting out on the park at one time in blue and white. There are certainly big things happening out of the Apple Isle and if Maurer’s development is anything to go by, the rate of improvement will be steep.

Image Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

Fierce Dolan chooses footballing “family”

A FIERCE competitor who tackles hard, brings her pressure game to each line, and doesn’t mind a scrap. On face value, you’d think Charlotte Dolan hails from a much different sporting background than her soccer and surf lifesaving past. The helmet-donning Woodville-West Torrens prospect is unmistakable on-field, though.

Dolan completed just her second SANFL Women’s campaign in 2021 after a promising debut season last year, with her choice to pursue Australian football paying off in the form of repeat state representative honours. It has proven quite a journey for the 18-year-old.

“I started playing football five to six years ago and it’s been non-stop since then,” Dolan said. “From SMOSH West Lakes, [to] Henley Football Club, to the Eagles, and now I’m here.

“I stopped playing soccer about four years ago… the honest truth is I had a soccer coach who said I had to choose. “I was doing surf lifesaving, soccer and football and it was all too much so my soccer coach told me to choose, and I chose football.

“I felt more of a family was around the football community and I was enjoying it a lot more, enjoyment comes before anything else.”

Dolan ponders her next move during this year’s AFLW U19 championships

In a season which Dolan modestly rated as “not too bad”, she averaged over seven disposals and four tackles across her nine SANFLW outings. The top-ager boosted those numbers come National Championships time, making it eight disposals to go with 2.3 marks and 2.7 inside 50s.

Having been utilised on both sides of midfield, up forward and down back, it is fair to say that Dolan’s punishing pressure game easily translates to all of the above. She says that kind of “versatility” is one of her strengths.

“I’d say I’m quite a fierce and aggressive player,” she said. “I like to lay the game-changing tackles and I believe I’m an alright kick, a long kick as well so I think they’re mostly my strengths.

“My marking has always let me down a fair bit but I have improved a lot from where I was – from playing soccer and being scared of having a ball in the face to where I am now, I think I’m doing alright.”

Outside of football, Dolan says there isn’t “a whole lot” going on. Shortly after her South Australian representative stint, she looked forward to the Australian surf lifesaving titles, but also fills her time working at AFL Max which is “a bit of fun”.

McLeay thrives on championship “learning experience”

HAVING started out looking to take up a sport “different to everybody else” at eight years old, Isadora McLeay is now well versed in Australian football nearly a decade later.

The Sydney Swans Academy member had hit 100 games for local club Mosman Swans by the age of 12, but is still adding strings to her bow after the “learning experience” that was this year’s AFLW Under 19 National Championships.

“I found them really, really fun,” McLeay said. “The Allies are lucky because we get a whole bunch of different girls from different places, all walks of life, and coming together you’re learning lots of things.

“It’s a good learning experience, especially from all the coaches like Jared Crouch who has played lots of games in the AFL system. It’s really interesting to learn his perspective on things.”

In her two outings for the Allies, McLeay was able to showcase her versatility and impressive one-on-one game, thriving most down back to average 16.5 disposals, three marks, and three rebound 50s. The 17-year-old says the defensive role is one which has grown on her through representative experience.

“I find it easier to punch the ball rather than mark it,” she said. “I used to hate playing back, I used to always be put back for representative (duties) but I’ve actually started to really enjoy full back.

“I think I’m pretty good at winning one-on-ones, just beating my opponents.”

There are two sides to the game though and while McLeay has already shown her promising defensive capabilities, she says she is working on some of her offensive attributes to fully enhance that desirable trait of versatility.

“I focus a lot on defence because I play back,” she said. “So I probably need to work on how I attack the ball and try to move it forward rather than just trying to prevent goals.”

When football is your “whole life” and what you “look forward to most weeks”, making those improvements becomes less of a chore. McLeay has a few inspirations to feed off too, especially close to home.

“Obviously my mum has been a great inspiration for everything she’s done for me to get to where I am,” she said.

Erin McKinnon has also come from my local club so it’s pretty interesting to see where she’s come from. “And one of my favourite players is Maddy Prespakis, just because she’s really good.”

With Sydney setting its sights on an AFLW licence in 2022, McLeay has the chance to become a lifelong Swan – from juniors, to the academy, to the top level.

Ballard buoyed by “enjoyable” position switch

STURT utility Alex Ballard is a player capable of shining at either end of the field, with her versatility tested throughout state Under 19s and SANFL Women’s duties. The top-ager already has over 30 senior games to her name after debuting in 2018, utilised as an equally capable intercept marking defender and full forward in that time, as well as during her representative stints.

“Last season I played down forward and obviously that was sometimes hard to get the ball,” Ballard said. “This season I played down back, at half-back, and that’s been really enjoyable. Just being able to use my kick to penetrate the defence and get through the lines.

“I enjoy being able to play in different positions, different positions have different challenges.”

As an marking and rebounding defender, Ballard shares similar traits to one of the top level footballers she looks up to, her own brother, Charlie. The Mitcham Hawks junior says he is not the only inspiration for her football career, though.

“My brother Charlie is probably the most obvious [mentor], but also my dad,” she said. “He’s always been very supportive and never puts pressure on me. “If we’re looking at footy skills, looking at Charlie and how he plays, he’s a good intercepting defender and has a good kick so I look up to him.

Chelsea Randall [too], because she plays in defence and that’s my most preferred position. She’s courageous, always hard at the ball and is not afraid to drop off her player to impact the contest.

“In the defence I’m a bit tall so I play on the bigger bodies and float off my player when I can to take those intercept marks.”

Ballard’s aerial quality came to the fore during another strong SANFLW campaign, in which she averaged nine disposals and four marks per her nine outings. The 170cm prospect also averaged virtually identical numbers across three state games, with that form enough to land her a spot in the recent SANFLW All Stars showcase. There, she was among the best afield for Team Red.

Having started out in a nine-a-side carnival with the Mitcham Hawks, Ballard’s honours have stacked up over the years. While she was overlooked in the 2020 AFL Women’s draft, the 18-year-old continues to press on and is also kept busy by her life outside of football.

“I’m at Adelaide Uni, I’m studying health and medical science,” she said. “I’m interested in going into the cancer research field so that keeps me busy outside of footy, balancing [them] at the moment.”

Fast learning Lakay takes her game to new heights

AMONG the many code-jumping athletes gunning for the height of women’s football is Swan Districts ruck Sarah Lakay, one of Western Australia’s 15 National Combine invitees in 2021. The 186cm prospect has taken to Australian football with aplomb since crossing from basketball, rising from a local club which “lost every game”, to becoming a key part of her state’s Under 19 championships squad.

“My friend invited me to go down and play down at my local footy club,” Lakay recounted. “It was me in the ruck, my friend who was a rover, and my little sister. “It was a small footy club at the time, we lost every game but I loved it, I fell in love with it instantly… from there I’ve only played club level footy up until this year. “This year I decided to try get into the state team and here I am.”

There has been plenty of learning along the way for Lakay, who has adapted on the job against quality opposition. Having cracked the senior WAFLW grade, her first assignment at the Under 19 carnival was to go head-to-head with South Australian ruck, Zoe Prowse, arguably the best pure ruck in this year’s draft pool.

“Playing [South Australia] was awesome,” Lakay said. “It was a good wake-up call for me because obviously the other ruck was really good, so that challenged me and I was like ‘okay, these are some things I need to work on’. She contested with me really well.

“I had to work on my fitness, getting around the ball and I think I definitely improved on that [in the next] game. “I think in terms of ruckwork I need to work on going up and using my knee as well. “Obviously coming from a basketball point of view I’m used to jumping straight up and not really using my knee to get up and propel myself to get up to the ruck taps.”

The hands-on learning curve has not only helped Lakay identify areas of growth, but also what her key strengths are. She humbly put down her “mind-blowing” selection in this year’s state team to a “significant advantage” in height, but Lakay’s athleticism and contested marking ability have her pegged as a versatile tall talent.

“My height and my overhead grabs [are key strengths],” she said. “I can take a few good marks overhead, and I think that my ruck work is actually really good – being able to tap it directly to people and getting over people with my jump and reach to get it down to the rovers.”

With two AFL Women’s teams in her home state, there are plenty of current top level players to look up to. There are arguably few better for a young key position player to idolise than Fremantle’s Mim Strom.

“I’ve been watching the football more recently, especially AFLW football and Mim Strom is a definite standout,” Lakay said. “She’s in the position where she wasn’t first pick, but she’s just worked really hard to be where she is now and she’s doing amazing now, so I look up to her a lot.”

As far as her own journey and goals, the 18-year-old simply wants to become “the best player [she] can be.”

“Let’s see how far that takes me,” she said. “I definitely want to play AFLW and if that is what I accomplish, that’ll be so awesome.”