Tag: tara slender

2021 AFL Women’s Academy squad announced

TWENTY aspiring AFL Women’s future draftees have been named in the 2021 AFL Women’s Academy, which was announced yesterday. The Academy primarily features players who were in the Academy as middle-age talents, though a number of inclusions have been made.

Off the back of a superb season with grand finalists South Adelaide, talented forward Gypsy Schirmer was included on the list, named as one of the top South Australian talents for the 2021 AFL Women’s Draft alongside Zoe Prowse in our 2021 AFLW Under 18s Ones to Watch last month. Also making the list was Launceston midfielder Perri King who made the Academy after stepping up for the Blues in the Tasmanian State League (TSL) Women’s competition, having made history as Tasmania Devils’ first goalkicker in the NAB League earlier this year, while Devils’ teammate Amy Prokopiec was a member of the Academy last year.

Also included in the new list was Claremont forward Amy Franklin who has unbelievable athletic traits and is as good at ground level as she is in the air. Named as the third top West Australian for next year, Franklin joined West Australian hopefuls, Courtney Rowley and Charlotte Thomas in the Academy. Up north, Ashanti Bush had an impressive Northern Territory All-Stars match to earn a spot in the Academy with the talented forward being the sole representative for her state next year. The Northern Territory have a number of talented prospects coming through in future years, however.

The final inclusion to the squad was NSW/ACT forward Jessica Doyle out of Manly-Warringah who joins Murray Bushrangers’ Ally Morphett as the other state representative in the 20-player squad. Once again when it comes to representation, Maroochydore leads the way with three representatives – Maggie Harmer, Mikayla Pauga and Bella Smith – while Bond University’s Teagan Levi is a clear standout prospect for the Sunshine State, looking to join sister Maddison at the elite level.

The Victorian portion of the Academy has been left untouched from 2020 given the playing cohort has not been able to show its wares this year. Calder Cannons’ Georgie Prespakis – one of the clear front runners for the top Victorian selections – is an unbelievable talent and will be highly sought after to join sister Maddy in the AFL Women’s. Cannons’ teammate Tahlia Gillard has the ability to play up either end as a talented tall, whilst the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels duo of running defender/wing Nyakoat Dojiok and mid/forward Ella Friend return to the Academy.

Keep an eye out for Bendigo Pioneers’ Tara Slender who looms as one of the most impressive key position options in this year’s draft, with the rebounding tall capable of playing both offensive and defensive roles. Rounding out the Academy are Charlie Rowbottom – sister of Sydney Swans’ James – out of the Oakleigh Chargers, as well as slick ball user and outside midfielder, Maykaylah Appleby from the AFL Women’s football factory at Northern Knights.

The AFL Women’s Academy take part annual high-performance camps, of which will include an induction program in January, training with AFL Women’s clubs over the summer, and partaking in a high-performance camp and match in July. It also enables the athletes to have access to a wide variety of high-performance coaches and medical staff who work at the elite level.

2021 NAB AFLW Academy

Jessica Doyle (Manly-Warringah/Swans NSW/ACT)
Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers/Giants NSW/ACT)
Ashanti Bush (Darwin NT)
Maggie Harmer (Maroochydore/Lions Qld)
Teagan Levi (Bond Uni/Suns Qld)
Mikayla Pauga (Maroochydore/Lions Qld)
Bella Smith (Maroochydore/Lions Qld)
Zoe Prowse (Sturt SA)
Gypsy Schirmer (South Adelaide SA)
Perri King (Launceston Tas)
Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels Vic Country)
Ella Friend (GWV Rebels Vic Country)
Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers Vic Country)
Maykaylah Appleby (Northern Knights Vic Metro)
Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons Vic Metro)
Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons Vic Metro)
Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers Vic Metro)
Amy Franklin (Claremont WA)
Courtney Rowley (Peel Thunder WA)
Charlotte Thomas (Subiaco WA)

2021 AFLW Under 18s Ones to Watch

NOW the curtain has closed on the 2020 AFL Women’s off-season period, we turn our attention to the next group of budding stars across the country who will be vying for a spot on an AFL Women’s list. We have named 25 players who have already shown some great signs in their bottom and middle-age seasons, as well as a number of others to watch out for in 2021.

Georgie Prespakis (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

A name that has been circulating for a number of years now, it is hard to believe the all-round talent was robbed of what she could potentially do in her middle-age year. She looked more than comfortable at the level in her bottom-age year as a 16-year-old and caught plenty of attention with a seven-goal haul against Greater Western Victoria Rebels. Taller than her sister – AFL Women’s league best and fairest winner Madison – Prespakis is hard at it, has great athleticism and is ridiculously strong one-on-one. A highlight-reel package nearly any time she steps out on the field, Prespakis is a future star and could play just about anywhere, but expect her to play inside midfield and rest forward.

Teagan Levi (Bond University/Queensland)

The sister of recently drafted Gold Coast Suns’ talent Maddison, Levi is 11cm shorter and plays onball rather than forward. Her athletic traits are similar to that of Georgia Patrikios in the way that she can seamlessly get herself out of trouble by wrong-footing and side-stepping opponents with ease. Not only is she able to beat them in congestion, she can run and take the game on down a wing, and then when the opponent wins it, she is the first to lay a strong tackle. Similar to Prespakis, Levi has so many weapons and is as effective defensively as she is offensively, and is the standout Queensland prospect for next year and in the clear top few talents running around.

Courtney Rowley. Picture credit: Owen Davies / Peel Thunder

Courtney Rowley (Peel Thunder/Western Australia)

A player who has been building very nicely over in Western Australia over the past two seasons and then was the most impressive of the middle-agers in the WAFL All-Stars game. A really smooth mover, Rowley often plays off a wing and knows how to distribute the ball so well, winning Peel Thunder’s League best and fairest last year as a 16-year-old competing against senior opponents including AFL Women’s talents. Whilst she had more support in 2020 as the Thunder rose from wooden spooners to premiers in a remarkable turnaround, it is hard not to admire what the talented midfielder could be in her top-age season next year.

Zoe Prowse (Sturt/South Australia)

The standout ruck prospect in next year’s draft, Adelaide will have another promising talent on their radar in Prowse. Winning Sturt’s best and fairest award this year, Prowse was just about the best in nearly every game she played for the Double Blues, particularly in the second half of the season. Despite standing at just under 180cm, Prowse has ridiculous athleticism with a high vertical leap and is almost like a fourth midfielder. She can get down and apply second and third efforts to ground level players, and is one who could also play forward if required. With great ruck nous, she can outwork her opponents around the ground, and it was easy to see why she was the sole South Australian AFL Women’s Academy member in her middle-age year.

Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)

An absolute star in the making. Capable of playing midfield or forward, Rowbottom just knows how to set scoring opportunities up in transition. The sister of Sydney’s James, Rowbottom has similar ball-winning abilities and defensive attributes, but has a lot to offer offensively as well. She showed in the Chargers’ win over Tasmania that she is not only able to hit the scoreboard herself – kicking two goals – but set up a number of chances for her teammates. One that will really surprise in 2021 as a leader for the Chargers.

Charlie Rowbottom. Picture credit: Solstice Digital & Photography

Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers/Vic Country)

With quite a few tall defenders in this year’s AFL Women’s Draft, Slender would be putting her hand up as potentially the pick of the bunch. Her intercepting capability and reading of the ball in flight is exceptional, and while she did miss her middle-age year, Slender is one who could catch the attention pretty quickly. Having played alongside some Vic Country representatives in the past – and playing at Under 16s level for her state – Slender is good in one-on-ones and looms as a key lynchpin for the Pioneers. It would also not be too surprising to see her take a similar transition to Isabelle Pritchard and move into the midfield given she has the traits to slot right in there.

Makaylah Appleby (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)

Class personified. Appleby has managed to catch the eye on more than a few occasions over the past few seasons despite playing in such a stacked team at the Northern Knights. She often played off a wing or provided run on the outside like during the 2019 NAB League Finals Series. Appleby is now the top prospect at the Knights for the upcoming season as a member of the AFL Women’s National Academy, and as a damaging ball user, Appleby is one that teammates want to get the ball in the hands of in order to create scoring opportunities up the field.

Charlotte Thomas (Subiaco/Western Australia)

A dangerous forward half player with clean skills and a nous for goals, Thomas is the other AFL Women’s Academy member from Western Australia in her middle-age year along with Rowley and has a big future. Playing in an experienced team like Subiaco, Thomas was able to still stand out, regularly hitting the scoreboard. Standing at 175cm, Thomas has good size and good hands and having made her League debut in 2020, big things are predicted for 2021 with a lot of AFL Women’s talent, and more experienced heads around her.

Nyakoat Dojiok. Picture credit: Draft Central

Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)

A player who is not afraid to take the game on and really take it to the opposition is GWV Rebels’ Dojiok who has been developing year-on-year over the last few years. Playing as a 15-year-old a few years back, Dojiok is one who when she gets going is hard to contain, and she has that rich blend of power and speed. She is utilised best as that outside runner, playing off half-back or along a wing, but is eye-catching in the way she plays and the way she can bring teammates into the game. Entering her top-age year, expect her to see even more midfield time as she has some seriously great traits.

Elizabeth Dowling (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)

A player who might be flying under the radar that has some casual NAB League Girls watchers reaching for the team lists next year is Dowling. An incredible talent who showed progression in her two games this year, she has only managed to fly under the radar due to the enormous amount of talent coming out of the Falcons’ football factory. She played in defence as a bottom-ager then got time more up the field last year, and expect her to play through the midfield in 2021. She can play anywhere, at that hybrid 171cm-plus size and can be too athletic for talls and too strong for smalls, Dowling is one who should not be forgotten when talking about Vic Country prospects.

Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers/NSW-ACT)

The standout NSW/ACT prospect for 2021, Morphett is the sole AFL Women’s Academy member from her state. The developing 189cm-plus ruck is one who improved from her bottom-age season and it would have been fantastic to see her going up against the Melbourne-drafted Maggie Caris if their teams had met in the NAB League Girls before the season ended. She is commanding overhead and able to drift forward if required, Morphett is one of the few NAB League Girls prospects to play this year. Representing Belconnen Magpies in the AFL Canberra League, Morphett finished second in the league best and fairest, and then won best on ground in the Magpies’ premiership win. Not bad for a 17-year-old and she is one anticipated to take a huge step in 2021.

Maggie Harmer (Maroochydore/Queensland)

Stood tall at senior level in the QAFL Women’s competition for the Roos and is one of a remarkable three players in the AFL Women’s Academy from the side. Harmer showed in the Queensland All-Stars game that she looms as a strong prospect in 2021 with her overhead marking, read of the play and powerful kicking standing out in a tight game. A member of the Brisbane Lions Academy, Harmer is 170cm and could play at half-back as that intercepting rebounder, or through the middle, seemingly able to break down opposition defences on transition by getting in the way and then pumping it long.

Maggie Harmer. Picture credit: Deion Menzies, Highflyer Images

Amy Franklin (Claremont/Western Australia)

If we are talking upside, then Franklin, not too dissimilar to her West Australian namesake, has plenty of that for the future. A tall marking forward, Franklin has speed that makes smaller opponents envious, and standing at 180cm, she is big enough to outmark most opponents. Still quite raw and lightly built compared to more experienced WAFL Women’s defenders she came across, Franklin is one that once the ball gets goalside, you can almost put the glasses down. Terrific athleticism and one who is threatening to be an even bigger threat in 2021, she is yet another exciting tall forward to come out of Western Australia.

Tahlia Gillard (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

If you are talking upside and potential in next year’s AFL Women’s Draft crop then take 186cm Gillard as an example. Only turning 17 in December this year, the key position utility can play in all three lines, starting off as a key defender, spending time up forward and has the size if required to play ruck. For a player of her size, Gillard is so good at ground level and able to create something out of nothing. While she is still a raw and developing talent, she is another from the Cannons’ program who has already had plenty of NAB League Girls experience that will only make her better.

Ella Friend (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)

A second GWV Rebels player making the list, Friend did not get many chances this season to show what she is capable of, but what she did in that short space of time was quite remarkable. Another member of the AFL Women’s National Academy, Friend looked comfortable in the tight contest against the Western Jets back in Round 3, racking up a ton of the ball – 19 touches – and having a real influence in the forward half. Not only that, but she iced the game for the Rebels with a match-winning goal, and provided as much offence (six inside 50s) and defence (five tackles) to suggest she is a gamechanger and one to look out for next season.

Jorja Livingstone (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)

Made her debut in the NAB League Girls competition and just has that X-factor about her that makes you sit up and take notice. Elite acceleration out of the stoppage and some really top-end traits, Livingstone came into the Ranges’ midfield and assimilated easily that it was hard to believe she was not a top-ager. Behind the experienced Olivia Meagher and Tarni Brown, Livingstone was the next biggest performer onball, and with another preseason behind her, it will be exciting to see just what she can produce with her athletic traits and ability to get forward and look dangerous.

Emelia Yassir (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

Yassir is just a fierce competitor who can play through the midfield or as a small forward. Standing at just 161cm, Yassir defies her size and is not afraid to take on bigger opponents, laying multiple tackles and is a contested ball winner. She stood up during Calder’s NAB League Girls finals series as a bottom-ager in 2019, and started strongly in 2020. She will have a bigger role in 2021 and has a bucketload of talent that will have opposition players wary of when she is in the zone.

Mikayla Pauga (Maroochydore/Queensland)

Another small forward and member of the AFL Women’s Academy, Pauga might just stand at 161cm like Yassir, but packs plenty of punch as a damaging forward. The second Maroochydore player in this list, Pauga finished second in her club’s goalkicking with 13 majors in 14 games, and was a clear standout. With an eye for goal and a large endurance base that sees her outwork opponents, Pauga is one who could step up again in 2021 and will be one to watch at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships having shown her wares at senior level in the QAFL Women’s already.

Zoe Venning. Picture credit: SANFL

Zoe Venning (West Adelaide/South Australia)

A hard-nosed midfielder/forward from West Adelaide, Venning came on in leaps and bounds throughout her second season in the red and black. She became a crucial member of the Bloods’ midfield, playing between wing and forward, though her attack on the ball shows she can easily translate into an inside midfielder. Providing great assistance to equal league best and fairest winner, Rachelle Martin as well as young talent Abbie Ballard, Venning is one who is dangerous around goals. She is still developing some areas of her game such as her kicking, but her work rate and intensity in play is superb.

Kasey Lennox (Calder Cannons/Vic Metro)

A reliable key defender for the Cannons, Lennox is a fourth member of the Calder side to make this list, and shows just how strong their top-age group will be next season. Lennox is one who is good at ground level for a taller player, being one of the most dominant rebounders in the competition to start the 2020 NAB League Girls season. As a player who stood out on the big stage of the 2019 NAB League Girls Grand Final, Lennox is not afraid of big moments, and will team up well with Gillard as a couple of talls in a really strong Cannons outfit.

Amy Prokopiec (Clarence/Tasmania)

The sole Tasmanian prospect in the AFL Women’s National Academy, Prokopiec became one of the standout defenders for Tasmania Devils, albeit in just a handful of games in her bottom and middle-age years. As she showed with Clarence in the TSL Women’s competition this year and in the Tasmanian All-Stars game, Prokopiec is capable of playing at either end, and becoming that versatile tall utility. As a long kick and strong overhead, she is a crucial cog in the both the Roos and Devils sides, and will be hoping for a full season next year to test herself against the best in the NAB League Girls.

Amy Prokopiec (right). Picture credit: Solstice Digital & Photography

Gypsy Schirmer (South Adelaide/South Australia)

There are quite a few talls in this list with potential, and Schirmer is another one who just has that look about her that she could be in for a big 2021. In her middle-age season with reigning premiers South Adelaide, she acquitted herself well and while she did have some really outstanding performances, even when she was quieter, there was always a moment or two within games where you could see she was capable of kicking a couple of goals and winning the match for her side. Not far off 180cm, Schirmer can push up to a wing or even in defence, but she always looks damaging inside 50 and a real target for her teammates to kick to.

Eliza James (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)

A good size and capable of hitting the scoreboard, the 176cm James is a damaging prospect. She showed in her two games this year how she has developed both her offensive and defensive traits, and even as an Under 16s player for the Chargers, stood up in nine games and booted five goals. As one of a number of Chargers who were able to provide support to the top-end talent this year, James is another leader in the group to standout in her own top-age year in 2021.

Alana Lishmund (Norwood/South Australia)

Was a prominent member of the Norwood side in her debut SANFL Women’s season, then really stepped up as one of the best in the All-Stars match last month. She is predominantly a forward talent who can push up the ground into the midfield, and then play high or deep forward when required. A reliable kick for goal, she has that X-factor about her inside 50 and can be a leading or crumbing target, playing taller than her 166cm size, and one who will be another South Australian jostling for a spot as one of the more prominent talents in the state.

Alana Lishmund. Picture credit: AFL Media

Jaide Anthony (Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country)

A multi-sport talent for the Stingrays, Anthony also has that something special about her game playing as a forward. She can play at either end, and has progressed through the pathway from V/Line Cup to the NAB League Girls. One who has shared her football journey with cricket duties – she has only managed the five games for the Stingrays – she knows how to hit the scoreboard and provide a presence. Despite standing at just 166cm, Anthony plays like a taller forward and finds space, and will be a top talent to watch out for from the Stingrays in 2021.

Others:

Maroochydore’s Bella Smith is another member of the AFL Women’s National Academy who stood up for Maroochydore this season in the QAFL Women’s, whilst Georgia Hutton and Caitlin Thorne are a couple of Gold Coast Academy members who showed some top-end traits during the All-Stars match.

The South Australian group has been sensational with plenty having senior experience, led by South Adelaide’s Lauren Clifton who stood out in the All-Stars match up forward. Central District’s Madison Lane, North Adelaide’s Kate Case, Glenelg’s Brooke Tonon and Woodville-West Torrens’ Jamie Parish are others who have been ones to watch at SANFL Women’s level this season.

Over in the west, Chloe Reilly remains a dangerous forward option for East Fremantle with her work at ground level and around goals, whilst Swan Districts’ Emma Nanut, and South Fremantle trio, Tayla Whincup, Taylah Cruttenden and Poppy Stockwell are also great talents.

Looking to the NAB League and there are plenty of names to throw up, but a few in the mix include Mikayla Jones (Murray Bushrangers), Jemma Radford (Dandenong Stingrays) and Annie Lee (Geelong Falcons) who have shown to be natural players in their respective areas. From the Vic Metro perspective, Peppa Poultney (Calder Cannons), Stella Reid (Oakleigh Chargers), Caitlin Sargent (Western Jets) and Tarrah Delgado (Northern Knights) were terrific this year, while a host of middle-age Sandringham Dragons got their starts and will no doubt produce a number of surprise packets alongside their elite bottom-age talents.

Perri King is another Tasmanian prospect behind Prokopiec to watch, making history as the Devils’ first goalkicker last season and will be keen to build on that again. From Northern Territory, there is a heap of great young talents coming through from 2022 onwards, with one 2021 draft prospect being Georgia Johnson, a 160cm talent from Waratah who stood out in the NT All-Stars match last month. Playing in defence, she was one to take note of as she regularly mopped up and got the ball down the field for Team Hewett.

Alongside the top-age talents, a number of over-age talents who missed out on being drafted this year will no doubt be trying to stake their case against be it via the NAB League or state leagues, including Brooke Hards, Jemma Finning and Annabel Strahan (all Bendigo Pioneers), Zoe Hill, Abbey Jordan and Jess Matin (all Dandenong Stingrays), Ash Snow and Maeve Chaplin (both Northern Knights), Amber Micallef (Oakleigh Chargers), Olivia Meagher (Eastern Ranges) and Grace McRae (Gippsland Power) who all received AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites but were unlucky to miss out.

In Western Australia, Maggie MacLachlan (Subiaco), Brianna Hyde and Mikayla Hyde (both Swan Districts) head into 2021 as over-agers, while mature-agers Ella Smith and Jess Low (both Claremont), Rosie Walsh (East Fremantle) and Sarah Wielstra (Swan Districts) are others who missed out on the AFL Women’s Draft but will remain ones to watch.

Elsewhere, Northern Territorian Mattea Breed continues to develop for Norwood in South Australia, whilst Abby Favell (Murray Bushrangers), Jayde Hamilton (Queanbeyan Tigers) and Kiara Beesley (Southern Power) were draft combine invitees from NSW/ACT.

In Queensland, Beth Pinchin has shown great resilience as a mature-ager coming back from multiple injuries, while Courtney Bromage and Brooke Spence are other mature-agers who caught attention this year. Christine Okesene, Ebony Peterson, Laura Blue, Chloe Gregory and Madison Goodwin were also in the mix this year with Draft Combine invites so will be kept on close watch in 2021. The other two players to receive AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites but miss out were the exciting Freda Puruntatameri (Calder Cannons/Northern Territory) and Charlie Vandenberg (Wynyard/Tasmania) who have plenty of development left in them.

2020 NAB League Girls team update: Bendigo Pioneers

WHILE the NAB League Girls competition is on break, we take a quick recap of each team and how the first three rounds have panned out for them and who has already stood up in the short time. We begin with Bendigo Pioneers who while they did not record a win in the opening three rounds, still had a number of standout players.

2020 RESULTS:

R1: lost to Western Jets by 22 points
R2: lost to Sandringham Dragons by 44 points
R3: lost to Calder Cannons by 43 points

Yet to register a win, the Pioneers have shown better signs than the scoreboard might suggest and were in games for portions of it, particularly in Round 1 against the Jets. They have had quite a few players who have provided a real edge to the team, but even from three games, have had injuries and unavailabilities impact.

FIVE STRONG STARTERS:

Annabel Strahan (16.7 disposals, 1.7 marks, 5.3 tackles, 2.0 inside 50s, 2.7 rebounds)

The co-captain has enjoyed a terrific start to the season thus far, playing predominantly through the midfield, but also getting back to help out the defence. In particular against Sandringham Dragons in Round 2, Strahan played deeper in defence to try and nullify the opposition’s scoring, before returning to the midfield in Round 3. She leads the team in disposals and has lifted her disposal averaged by six, as well as two extra tackles from last year.

Brooke Hards (16.5 disposals, 2.0 marks, 7.0 tackles, 2.0 inside 50s, 1.5 rebounds)

The co-captain missed the Round 3 match against Calder Cannons, but showed in the first two rounds why she won the club best and fairest last year as a middle-ager. She attacks the ball and ball-carrier with fierce intent, and has built on her experience representing Vic Country (where she averaged six tackles there) to really step up to another level thus far. So far she is ranked second for average disposals and first for average tackles, laying seven per game after a whopping 9.9 last season.

Jemma Finning (15.0 disposals, 2.7 marks, 4.7 tackles, 0.7 inside 50s, 3.3 rebounds)

Can play in multiple positions but has looked really handy coming off half-back and leads the team in rebounds. She also finds plenty of the ball, racking up a team-high 20 disposals in the last match against Calder Cannons, while maintaining a 3.3 rebounds per game average. Her numbers have lifted from last season where she played through the midfield, already amassing more rebounds than she did in 2019, while her disposal average, marks and tackles are also up in 2020.

Elizabeth Snell (11.5 disposals, 1.5 marks, 7.5 tackles, 2.5 inside 50s, 1.5 rebounds)

After missing Round 2, Snell returned to the team in Round 3 and was everywhere with her defensive pressure, laying a massive 10 tackles to go with 17 touches in the loss. She is able to balance between playing offensively and defensively after playing as a forward last season. She snagged five goals against Gippsland Power as a middle-ager last year, but has spent time up the field thus far, winning the ball through midfield and providing plenty of defensive pressure to the opposition.

Madeline Marks (8.3 disposals, 1.0 marks, 14.7 hitouts, 5.7 tackles)

The middle-age ruck has been a hard worker for the Pioneers this season, not only winning the taps (14.7 per game), but also getting the ball at ground level and providing an option in transition. She stands at 178cm and is able to lay some big tackles on opposition players who try to shark her taps, and is one of the big improvers this season after getting a taste of it last season, where she played three games as a bottom-ager.

Others who have stood out: Rachael Stubbings, Dakota Villiva, Tara Slender and Maeve Tupper

The Pioneers have had a good group of players who have stepped up at times and played multiple team roles across the ground. Stubbings has been a natural ball winner in the back half, Villiva has provided a target up forward, Tupper has provided a presence in midfield and Slender has plenty of upside as a rebounder.

NAB League Girls preview: Round 3 – Undefeated sides clash on Saturday

A COUPLE of undefeated games open the weekend in a top three clash between Northern Knights and Dandenong Stingrays at RMIT Bundoora, before the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels tackle the Western Jets in Ballarat. The Sunday trio of games has a couple of sides searching for their first wins of the season with Calder Cannons and Bendigo Pioneers going head-to-head and Eastern Ranges hosting Tasmania Devils, while Gippsland Power returns from a week off to face the breakeven side of Sandringham Dragons.

NORTHERN KNIGHTS v. DANDENONG STINGRAYS

Round 3 – 14/03/2020
11:00am
RMIT University Bundoora

A top three clash between the second placed Dandenong Stingrays and third ranked Northern Knights opens the round with the Stingrays having had impressive wins over Eastern Ranges (50 points) and Calder Cannons (18). The Knights also knocked off the Cannons the week before (six points) before enjoying a more comfortable win over Geelong Falcons (25). Both sides have made a number of changes, with Saige Bayne returning to the side after a long layoff, while Georgia Grimmer and Jemma Radford are also back into the side up opposite ends of the ground. The Knights have also made a number of changes to the side in anticipation for the clash with at least four confirmed changes and an additional three added to the extended bench. Already the head-to-head that could decide the result is between in-form forward, Alyssa Bannan (seven goals) and reliable defender, Zoe Hill inside the Knights’ forward half. An equally eye-catching matchup will be Knights’ co-captain Jess Fitzgerald going head-to-head against Dandenong star, Tyanna Smith with the pair sharing similar skill and footy IQ making it a must-watch clash. Abbey Jordan has been thrown around a bit this season but now the Stingrays captain is in attack to potentially lock the ball in at every opportunity, while Maeve Chaplin‘s ability at half-back should provide some good run. In the midfield, Ellie McKenzie and Ash Snow will provide power onball, while Amber Clarke and Emily Shepherd have added speed to run the ball down the field. The Knights will be favourites but the Stingrays have shown an ability to run the ball and not back down from a challenge.

GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS v. WESTERN JETS

Round 3 – 14/03/2020
11:30am
MARS Stadium

In a second game between undefeated sides, fourth placed Western Jets travel to Mars Stadium to meet the sixth placed GWV Rebels from 11.30am. Both these sides have some great young talent coming through and the Jets have had a win against Bendigo Pioneers and a draw with Murray Bushrangers over the first two rounds, whilst the Rebels’ come-from-behind victory against Sandringham Dragons in Round 1 was their only game so far this season following a bye in Round 2. Renee Saulitis proved the get-out-of-jail free card in Round 1 with a couple of last quarter goals to sink the Dragons, and she has been named back in her damaging position inside 50. Fellow AFL Women’s National Academy member, Isabella Simmons is also in the forward half, while Maggie Caris will look to take advantage of the height difference over the Jets’ smaller ruck division. Amelia Velardo has the athleticism to get the job done at ground level even if she does not win the tap and provides a “fourth midfielder” around the stoppages. Alongside her is top-age AFL Women’s National Academy member, Isabelle Pritchard who is coming off an impressive 25-disposal game last week, as is Charlotte Baskaran who plays off half-back but can push up the ground to impact the midfield. In the middle of the ground is fellow bottom-ager Montana Ham who has been the Jets’ best across the two games this season. Caitlin Sargent has been a target inside 50 for the Jets, while she will likely have Rebels’ Crystal Summers for company after the defender was a star in Round 1 for the Ballarat-based side. The Rebels’ half-back line is quite strong with Nyakoat Dojiok providing speed and dare out of defence, while Lilli Condon impacts the game through the midfield and up forward. At home the Rebels have an advantage, but both sides have an entertaining brand of end-to-end football.

GIPPSLAND POWER v. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS

Round 3 – 15/03/2020
12:00pm
Morwell Recreation Reserve

With three games on Sunday, the first is a clash between Gippsland Power and Sandringham Dragons at Morwell Recreation Reserve after the game was moved from Churchill. The Power will be well rested after a spirited fight against Geelong Falcons in the opening round and a bye in Round 2. The Dragons on the other hand let slip a real chance in Round 1 with inaccurate kicking to go down to the GWV Rebels, before bouncing back with an impressive win over Bendigo Pioneers last week. Back at home, the Power showed their have a number of strengths through the ruck and in defence, and if they are able to quell the Dragons’ scoring or force them into making mistakes, then they are a real chance of victory. Sandringham impressed last week and have plenty of ball-winning midfielders who step up when required and if they convert their chances inside 50, then they will go a long way to taking home the points in the contest. Matilda Van Berkel was best-on for the Power in their Round 1 win over Geelong Falcons and will look to take advantage against the Dragons. The key for the Power will be to try and win the clearances against an experienced Dragons midfield, as captain Winnie Laing, Alice Burke and Bella Eddey round out a strong starting core. Megan Fitzsimon is the Power’s sole AFL Women’s Academy member, but Grace McRae is another player not afraid of winning contested ball, while Lily-Rose Williamson is a bottom-ager to watch over the coming years. Shanara Notman is a strong overhead mark and will look to chop off any Dragons forward thrusts, while Leyla Berry had a successful return in Round 1 after taking the 2019 season off. Sarah Hartwig has been named on the wing for the second successive week, while Eliza McNamara provides forward pressure inside 50, and key target Abbi Moloney booted three goals in the Dragons win last week and could be one to watch.

BENDIGO PIONEERS v. CALDER CANNONS

Round 3 – 15/03/2020
1:00pm
Epsom Huntly Reserve

Calder Cannons hits the road to face Bendigo Pioneers from 1pm at Epsom Huntly Reserve on Sunday. Last year’s grand finalists are yet to get a win on the board, but have had a tough draw to open the season, falling to reining premiers Northern Knights, and a vastly improved side, Dandenong Stingrays in the first fortnight. The Pioneers are also yet to taste victory with losses to Western Jets and Sandringham Dragons in the opening couple of rounds. Given the loss of co-captain Brooke Hards for the clash, Bendigo will be up against it taking on a determined Calder side that could well have won its two games had it had a bit more luck. The Pioneers do welcome back Elizabeth Snell into the fold with the midfielder/forward adding some class and skill to the midfield group, while Annabel Strahan has pushed up into the midfield after being a reliable source in the back 50 last week. Tara Slender and Jemma Finning provide good intercept and rebounding capabilities, while Madeline Marks has had an impact through the ruck this season. The Cannons have a strong combination named at the key defensive posts with Kasey Lennox and Tamsin Crook, while Crook is also able to rotate with AFL Women’s National Academy member, Tahlia Gillard who will start forward as both can play at either end. Georgie Prespakis, Laura Cocomello and Jessica Zakkour have all been in good form this season, while Emelia Yassir is a clever forward who can push into that midfield rotation. Calder should breakthrough for its first win, but the Pioneers do have the home ground advantage which counts for something.

EASTERN RANGES v. TASSIE DEVILS

Round 3 – 15/03/2020
1:00pm
Kilsyth Recreation Reserve

At the same time as the Bendigo game, two sides searching for their first win battle it out at the newly renovated Kilsyth Recreation Reserve. The Eastern Ranges will enjoy playing where they train and welcoming the less-familiar Tasmania Devils will give them a huge confidence boost. The Devils were overwhelmed by a rampaging Oakleigh side that could well contend for this year’s NAB League Girls flag in Round 2, marking a tough initiation to their first full-time season. The Ranges had a bye in Round 2 after a 50-point defeat at the hands of another undefeated side in Dandenong Stingrays. Given the experience the Ranges have at the NAB League level – making the finals last season and pushing the Northern Knights in the preliminary finals – they should have the wood over the competition newcomers, though the Devils’ defensive pressure was impressive despite the heavy Round 1 defeat. Olivia Meagher and Tarni Brown provide hardness and class in equal measure on the inside, while Jorja Livingstone showed impressive athleticism bursting out of stoppages in the Round 1 loss. Key target, Jess Grace has been named at full-forward, while three players will make their debut in the game for the Ranges. Amy Prokopiec could not have done much more at full-back last week, saving a number of goal-scoring opportunities for the Chargers, and she along with Camilla Taylor provided some composure in the match. Jemma Webster provided some speed out of defence in Round 2, while Kara Hennessy rotated through the ruck and could be a target inside 50 for the Apple Isle based side.

Sandringham too strong for tackle-heavy Bendigo

SANDRINGHAM Dragons bounced back well from their Round 1 loss to come out impressive winners against Bendigo Pioneers, rocketing into fifth with the 44-point victory.

It was a hard and fast start for the Sandringham Dragons, peppering the posts but to no avail early, denying Bendigo any opportunity at scoring but missing chances at extending a solid margin. The sole goal of the quarter to Abbi Moloney (her first of three) was sandwiched by minor scores on either side, with the Dragons influential across the ground but not making the most of it inside 50. Sandringham’s defensive unit was hungry for the ball, making it tough for Bendigo to get clean hands to the footy. But while Bendigo had a tough time marking, especially under pressure from the Dragons, their tackling intensity was dialled up to 100 and collecting 10 more tackles overall thanks to the side attacking the ball well at ground level.

Dragons had a much better start to the second, with a lucky goal from Isabella Eddey putting her first on the board early in the second to stem the flow of behinds before backing it up with her second for the day moments later, at the end of an impressive chain from the centre bounce. While Sandringham had a much better quarter, so did Bendigo, collecting their first of the day to Tara Slender who took a great grab for a set shot. But despite continuing with the same tenacity for the rest of the quarter, the Pioneers had a tough time getting the ball cleanly inside 50 thanks to smothering defensive pressure up the ground from the Dragons. 

The third term saw the pressure from the Pioneers lift a notch, with each side only putting the one behind each on the board in an overall defensively minded quarter. Dominating the hitouts at half-time thanks to a dominant combination of Madeline Marks (13 hitouts, 11 disposals) and Abbey Barber (11 hitouts) the Pioneers side began to limit Sandringham’s clean disposals and denying them chances at breaking away from the pack to clear the footy, limiting precious run down the field for the Dragons and enabling Bendigo to put more pressure in their offence. 

The final quarter saw Sandringham well and truly run away with it, finding the goals with relative ease after a tough slog in the third. While Bendigo’s tackling pressure was monumental, Dragons worked through it with their cleanliness to break through the pack and clear the ball out to open space. While the Pioneers had some good chances defensively to turn the tables and propel the footy back up the field, messiness in the midfield allowed Sandringham too many opportunities intercept marking, rendering Bendigo unable to get out of the back 50.

In an all-round dominant performance from Sandringham, there were a number of key players who got the job done. Eddey’s two goals sparked the side into action while her 22 touches, six tackles and four inside 50s proved vital to run the ball downfield alongside ball magnets Sarah Hartwig (20 disposals, seven tackles, six marks) and Winnie Laing (22 touches, three marks, three tackles, three inside 50s), while Alice Burke also put in a strong effort with 19 touches and six tackles. For the Pioneers, the effort on field far outweighed the scoreline, with three players picking up seven tackles apiece proving the defensive pressure across the field. Brooke Hards and Dakota Villiva (both 15 disposals and seven tackles) were influential stopping easy access through the midfield, while Annabel Strahan was the side’s top ball user with 18 touches, five rebounds, four tackles and three marks in a solid all-round effort. While the goals dried up for Bendigo after Slender’s major, the side still put in a solid effort that was not indicative of the scoreline

Next round Sandringham travel to take on winless Gippsland Power on Sunday morning at Churchill Football Ground while Bendigo host last season’s grand finalists, Calder Cannons on Sunday afternoon at Epsom Huntly Reserve.

SANDRINGHAM 1.5 | 5.5 | 5.6 | 7.10 (52)
BENDIGO 0.0 | 1.0 | 1.1 | 1.2 (8)

GOALS

Sandringham: A. Moloney 3, I. Eddey 2, S. Hurley, B. Hipwell.
Bendigo: T. Slender.

ADC BEST

Sandringham:  I. Eddey, S. Hartwig, W. Laing, A. Burke, A. Moloney
Bendigo: A. Strahan, B. Hards, D. Villiva, R. Stubbings, M. Marks 

DC Medal:

5 – Isabella Eddy (SD)
4 – Sarah Hartwig (SD)
3 – Winnie Laing (SD)
2 – Annabel Strahan (BP)
1 – Alice Burke (SD)

NAB League Girls preview: Round 1 – New talent to shine in opening round of action

NAB League Girls action is back on the agenda this weekend with a grand final rematch among a host of expected tight contests with all sides back on level pegging at 0-0 to start the season and hoping to kick-off their seasons with wins.

NORTHERN KNIGHTS v. CALDER CANNONS
Saturday, February 29, 10:15am
RMIT University Bundoora

The first game of the round is a fitting opener to the new NAB League Girls season, with Northern Knights hosting Calder Cannons at a refurbished RMIT University ground in the 2019 Grand Final rematch. The Knights had five players drafted last year, with the remainder signed up for state league level football in 2020, while the Cannons just had the two, but had a number of players on the periphery. Both these sides have plenty of talent with the Knights potentially a year ahead in development, finishing runner-up in 2018 before winning last year, while the Cannons made the grand final last season, and will be hoping to build on that this year. The Knights have five players in the National AFL Women’s Academy, led by Ellie McKenzie and last year’s grand final best on ground medallist, Jess Fitzgerald who are both amongst a strong midfield core. Fellow Academy member, Maeve Chaplin is also named onball, while Maykaylah Appleby will run down the wings as the sole middle-age Academy member. Alyssa Bannan is a leading target and strong overhead named at centre half-forward, and a battle with the likes of key backs, Tamsin Crook and Tahlia Gillard – the latter of whom is in the AFL Women’s Academy too will be a match-up to watch. The name that will always catch the eye is Georgie Prespakis, a 2021 draft prospect and sister of Carlton Rising Star, Madison. She is capable of anything and her battle with McKenzie will be intriguing. The Cannons also have some serious depth at their disposal, with Emelia Yassir and Kasey Lennox another couple of youngsters who made their debuts last season and looked at home. With Freda Puruntatameri playing with Palmerston in the NTFL Women’s competition up forward for the Cannons, there is plenty of X-factor there too.

GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS v. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS
Saturday, February 29, 11:30am
City Oval Ballarat

Up in Ballarat, the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels host the Sandringham Dragons in a battle between two sides who should improve on their 2019 placings. Both sides have a number of AFL Women’s Academy member with the Rebels (five) and the Dragons (three) both having some serious top-end talent. The Rebels have a strong spine with Maggie Caris likely to be the top ruck in the competition this year with her height and tap work causing problems for the opposition. Renee Saulitis has played up forward and down back, but is named in the middle, with her athleticism and ability to sidestep opponents a feature of her game. Along with Isabella Simmons who has also been named through the midfield, all three Academy members are very different and add varied elements to the game style. They will face an equally impressive midfield of Dragons’ captain Winnie Laing, potential St Kilda father-daughter selection, Alice Burke and Bella Eddey who provide a real hard edge to the onball brigade. Sarah Hartwig is one of a couple of premier rebounding defenders, reading the ball in flight so well and able to create a lot of offensive run while nullifying her opponent defensively. Playing at half-forward is Eliza McNamara who is a tackling machine and elite runner, who will work her opponent over, while Abbi Moloney lines up at full-forward to try and clunk a few grabs by outmuscling her opponent one-on-one. The Rebels will look to run the ball out of defence through Nyakoat Dojiok who is a 2021 draft prospect in the Academy, while Chloe Leonard has been named at full-forward for the Rebels who will look to have a spread of goalkickers rather than a dominant target.

GEELONG FALCONS v. GIPPSLAND POWER
Saturday, February 29, 12:00pm
RMIT University Bundoora 

After its first finals loss last season, Geelong Falcons return to the NAB League Girls with a hunger to get back to the heights of 2018, starting off the 2020 season with a clash against Gippsland Power. The Power have a lot of players who were able to run out last season and will be more experienced in 2020, so they will no doubt look to push the Falcons who have plenty of young players themselves. Geelong’s duo of Darcy Moloney and Laura Gardiner will be damaging through the midfield as the Falcons’ two AFL Women’s National Academy members. Joined in the middle by basketballer Carly Remmos, the Falcons have a strong foundation to continue the success of past years. Elizabeth Dowling is a name that will be raised over the next couple of years, and along with Renee Tierney as targets up forward and Poppy Schaap‘s defensive pressure, the Falcons are in a good shape going forward. Mia Van Dyke is one of a number of prospects who have come through the club’s V/Line Cup program and despite being just three days away from being a 2023 draft eligible prospect (only turned 15 in December), she is one of a number who have come through the pathway with some high wraps from the coaching staff. Gippsland has some familiar names in its line-up, led by midfielder and AFL Women’s Academy member, Megan Fitzsimon. She, along with Grace McRae forms a strong midfield duo in there, and will compete strongly for the contested ball. In defence, Shanara Notman returns as a 19-year-old named at centre half-back and will provide some good rebound there, right alongside Leyla Berry who played for the Power back in 2018. On the other flank is a familiar Power name with Yasmin Duursma (sister of Port Adelaide’s Xavier), while when talking about bottom-age talent, Lily-Rose Williamson is one who will be a standout along a win having starred for the club through the V/Line Cup in past years.

BENDIGO PIONEERS v. WESTERN JETS
Saturday, February 29, 12:50pm
Queen Elizabeth Oval 

Turning the attention to Bendigo, the Pioneers host Western Jets in a curtain raiser to the AFL Women’s clash between Richmond and Geelong. Bendigo has the one official AFL Women’s National Academy member in key defender Tara Slender, but have a midfield that will trouble opposition onballers. Brooke Hards and Annabel Strahan have both been named onball and the co-captains will provide a hard-edge to the midfield and be difficult to beat there. Along with Maeve Tupper who has some impressive athletic skills and great goal sense when up forward, the midfield is a strength for the Pioneers. Jemma Finning has been named at half-back to provide some run out of defence with Slender, while up forward, Hannah Stewart is a target inside 50 as a 19-year-old. The Jets have opted to throw rebounding defender, Isabelle Pritchard into the midfield to counteract the Pioneers’ onball and develop her game even further. Along with bottom-age tall, Montana Ham and Nikita Wright in the middle, the Jets have some good height and ball-winning ability in there with upside. A highly rated bottom-ager with Ham is Charlotte Baskaran who is considered elite with her foot skills and decision making, so will be one to watch coming off half-back where she has been named. Both these sides are going to go close to winning in this tight contest with a fair few bottom-agers on show, though Bendigo should be more prepared after their top-agers had consistency through the team as middle-agers last season.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS v. EASTERN RANGES
Sunday, March 1,  11:00am
Holm Park Recreation Reserve 

In a rewind to 2018, Dandenong Stingrays and Eastern Ranges return to Holm Park in Beaconsfield to open their seasons on Sunday. While both played different opponents on that day two years ago, they will both be hoping for more ideal temperatures than the 37 degrees on that day. The Stingrays are coming off a solid season in 2019. just missing out on finals, while Eastern reached the post-season series and pushed eventual premiers, Northern Knights all the way in the preliminary final clash. The Stingrays’ standout prospect in 2020 is Tyanna Smith, with the AFL Women’s National Academy member having the combination of speed and strength in the middle, which she will use to burst out of the stoppages and create scoring opportunities for her team. Abbey Jordan showed last season she can win the ball through the middle, while young talls, Jaide Anthony and Georgia Grimmer up forward provide a glimpse into the future for the Stingrays having come through the V/Line Cup program. Down back, the ever-reliable Zoe Hill is alongside Jemma Radford, while Serene Vudiniabola comes highly rated as an overager who played school footy last year and is tied to Old Haileybury. Eastern Ranges pack a punch in the midfield as well, with Olivia Meagher and Tarni Brown the club’s two AFL Women’s Academy members. With ruck, Jess Grace likely to get first hands to them more often than not, the contested ball-winning Meagher and slick Brown will give their forwards some nice feeds inside 50. Matilda Hardy has been named at half-forward as one to watch, while Mietta Kendall is a reliable source of calmness in the back pocket, and Lily Peacock named as one to watch with her run along the wing.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS v. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Sunday, March 1, 1:00pm
Norm Minns Oval 

The final game of the round is another curtain raiser, this time for the Collingwood and Richmond AFL Marsh Series clash at Wangaratta. A big crowd is expected in attendance for the game, with two teams expected to improve in 2020 to battle it out. Murray Bushrangers and Oakleigh Chargers both had some superb performances last season, but had to iron out some consistency issues at times. Both having a number of talents coming through the ranks this season, the Bushrangers had a lot of middle and bottom-agers last season who have progressed through to the next year of their youth careers. The Charges had five players drafted and will be looking to replace them through a team approach. The Chargers have three players in the AFL Women’s National Academy with captain Mimi Hill and middle-ager Charlie Rowbottom named on-ball to rove the work of ruck, Kalarni Kearns. Also in the midfield is Joanna Lin on the wing, working the ball forward to an even front six. The Bushrangers have a two-pronged tall attack with AFL Women’s Academy members, Olivia Barber (top-age) and Ally Morphett (middle-age) rotating between ruck and forward. Abby Favell is a natural ball winner and will rotate between midfield and forward, while Kate Adams is another player who can be slippery around the stoppages and find the goals when inside 50. Keeley Skepper showed last season in the Under 16 Championships that she has a lot of upside, while a number of players on both teams loom as surprise packets in what could be one of the games of the round.

Belief growing at the Pioneers

BELIEF is a powerful motivator in any walk of life, and the Bendigo Pioneers’ NAB League Girls program is one that has building on and off the field over the last few seasons. In 2019, the Pioneers Girls’ program showed how they had grown from the previous year, winning four games – three more than the previous year – and being more competitive throughout each game. Pioneers’ Talent Manager Stephen Sharp said the girls’ confidence had increased throughout their time in the program.

“Yeah, look they no doubt did (grow in confidence), and they had an extra year in the system,” he said. “When we first came in we deliberately didn’t have any bias particularly around age in preference of playing the older girls. “If the younger girls were better and we thought they had the potential to grow, we’d pick them. “In the first year or two we were a bit that way and then as they’ve got a few games under their belt – the 17s or the 18s last year might have been in the system for a couple of years, where it wasn’t about just trying to win games, it was about trying to develop kids and develop the list so we could be more competitive.”

Sharp said the club’s development as a whole had been “absolutely good” and they would continue with the same method under a different coach this season. Cherie O’Neill has taken over from Shawn McCormick who has coached the past three seasons. O’Neill has been involved with the boys’ program for the past couple of seasons so has the understanding of the organisation and its intricate workings.

The Pioneers will be a young group in 2020, with Sharp noting that the club picks the best possible players who trial over the off-season, rather than opt for a top-age heavy list.

I think we’ll go for a list of about 35-40 and I’m guessing there’ll be about 10 or a dozen top-age girls and there could be as many as 17/18 17-year olds,” he said. “We might have four 15-year-old girls that’ll play that’ll be approved on application, that’ll play in our futures games. “But they’re better than some of the 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds. “So that’s why we’re playing them, and to give them a little taste.”

He said as with the boys’ program that selection would come down to weighing up both natural talent and athleticism, rather than age.

“There’s no point taking top-age girls again through who aren’t at the level,” Sharp said. “So the changes we’ve made, particularly with athletic profiling is that the girls that can run and have that athleticism and vertical leap that can still play – they’ve still got to be able to play – they’re going to get to more contests, they’re going to keep us in the game.”

The Pioneers have one player in the AFL Women’s National Academy – tall defender Tara Slender – who Sharp said is a perfect example of someone who has developed throughout the Pioneers’ program from V/Line Cup through to her first season of NAB League last year as a 15-year-old.

“She’s a great example,” Sharp said. “She went to the Academy up in Darwin recently and she’s quite well-equipped with other sports as well. “She’s an impressive kid, a really good kid who’s really committed and dedicated and she trains hard. “(In terms of) athletic profiling she’s what you need to be able to play today’s game at NAB League girls and AFLW, she’s the prototype – she’s your model there of what girls need to aspire to and she’s great at training so we’re looking forward to watching her play. ” She’s really committed to it, loves it, and if you put the work in you get the result.”

A late bloomer in terms of her age, Slender does not turn 17 until November, but she has proven to stand up at each level required. In her eight games last season, Slender averaged 11.4 disposals, two marks and three rebounds playing off half-back. With two full years left in the system, she is someone who will have plenty of development left in her.

But Slender is not the only player Sharp said spectators should watch out for with a number of top-age talents showing their skills last season as both footballers and leaders.

“We had a couple of girls last year in Brooke Hards and Elizabeth Snell who both played at the nationals in Queensland in July,” he said. “They’re both training really well, Elizabeth’s down here (Bendigo) and Brooke’s still up in Mildura so she’ll just travel down. “It was remarkable what she did last year, she left at 4:00 on Saturday morning to come to our trial games in Bendigo to watch the girls play – she didn’t play. So that’s the commitment there, it’s a return trip in the day equivalent to a drive from Melbourne to Sydney. “She’s (Hards) clearly our role model/leader.”

Asked if the trio would cover each third of the ground in similar positions to last year with Slender in defence, Hards in midfield and Snell up forward, Sharp said it was likely.

“I think so, I think we’ll spread them fairly evenly,” he said. “It is a development program and Tara will play in different roles but she’ll probably predominantly be at half-back where she’s pretty comfortable and reads the play and can intercept and use her left foot effectively. “You don’t want them all on-ball, there’ll be a spread, because otherwise you break down in those lines and then kids don’t develop. “And part of their development is to play them in different roles as well so they can experience those roles.”

The only confirmed overager at this stage – with list finalisation still ongoing – is Hannah Stewart, a talent from New South Wales who has also shown a remarkable dedication to the sport she loves.

Hannah Stewart, who played in the National Championships in Queensland at that same time with the Eastern Allies – she’s a girl from Hay, in fact she was down at training last night from three and a half hours away,” Sharp said. “She would normally train in Swan Hill, which is only a four hour return trip. “She’s our only 19-year-old at this stage we think, I don’t know whether we’ll apply for another one or not, but she’s an elite kick and a good player.”

Sharp said across the list there were a number of potential surprise packets in 2020, including Maeve Tupper – who at 155cm showed she has no problem finding the ball with 15.9 disposals per game last year. Developing talent Madeline Marks and potential Melbourne father-daughter selection in Tegan Williams (David, 67 games) are also exciting prospects heading into the season.

“We’ve got some girls who have tested really well and we use that as a bit of a measure, it’s always an assistance. There’s a young girl who is really good athletically and she’s learning the game so we’re probably going to include her to take her to the next level, a young girl locally who’s showed some good things and has a really good attitude, because attitude counts for a lot. “We think the girls are in a pretty good position.”

Bendigo has one of the toughest challenges in the NAB League competitions with its network far and wide across hundreds of kilometres. Like some of the other country teams, the Pioneers have multiple bases to try and limit the travel and workload on the players, and Sharp said he is often amazed at what the players do to play at this level.

We’ve got four big bases in Mildura, Swan Hill, Echuca and Bendigo,” he said. That way we can actually provide an opportunity for the girls, give them a good reason to come to training. “So if they’re only within an hour of Mildura, an hour to Swan Hill or similarly probably half an hour or 40 minutes to Echuca, it just gives them an opportunity to actually be able to come in.”

One example was a new player in list contention with plenty of talent, but due to family work commitments struggled to get to training. Sharp said the club was always willing to accomodate in situations where possible.

“We’ve got a girl in Ouyen who may well be one of our better players, or she’d be in our best half a dozen, she’s only bottom-age, but hasn’t trained once but she came to the trial game and discussions were around ‘We can’t list her’. “But we need to understand the circumstances, she’s a girls from a multicultural background, I met with her dad who speaks broken English and said to him the other day, we want her to continue but she needs to train. “He works every day, he works late and he starts early and he’s a hard worker so he can’t get her from Ouyen to Mildura so we’re working on a plan to get her to train one night a week, because then I can justify selecting her, because I can’t not select her, “She’s that talented and she works hard. “There’s all these obstacles, it’s just the way it is.”

Off the field, Bendigo has already had a number of changes with the new coach working alongside Pioneers boys’ coach and director of coaching, Damian Truslove who was also appointed over the off-season. O’Neill is also on a part-time role rather than previously being casual or volunteer – emphasising the growth of the youth program. The Pioneers have also said they will look to appoint a female wellbeing coordinator to further grow the program.

On the field, Sharp said the team was looking to have a good balance of attack and defence heading into 2020, as well as some key fundamentals.

I think it’s just making sure the girls have a good understanding of their offensive and defensive structures,” he said. “While we don’t heavily emphasise or haven’t done a lot of work on that, it’s the key part to what we do at training in regard to contested ball and where we get to receive it or where you get to defend it. So it’s a fairly simple format that Damian’s drawn up … and he works with Cherie who’s our new female coach so that we mirror it and all have a similar style. “So we haven’t done a lot of work on that, we’ve done a lot of work on fundamentals, just being able to mark, kick, handball, taking the ball cleanly below you knees so they’re the things we’ve mostly been working on.”

Bendigo Pioneers kick off their campaign on Saturday, February 29 at Queen Elisabeth Oval against Western Jets, before a trip to Highgate Recreation Reserve the following Saturday to face Sandringham Dragons.

2020 AFL Women’s Academy Announced

THE 2020 AFL Women’s Academy was announced yesterday, with Victoria metropolitan regions continuing their dominance in contributing to the nation’s high-end talent pool in the biggest intake yet. As is the standard, the Academy is split into Level 1 (Under-17) and Level 2 (Under-18) squads, with each state and territory having at least one representative across the 52 players chosen.

NSW/ACT, Queensland, and Western Australia each have four members in the top-age Level 2 Academy, headlined by the likes of Abby Favell (Murray Bushrangers/NSW/ACT), Zimmorlei Farquharson (Calamvale/Yeronga/QLD), and Mikayla Morrison (East Perth Royals/WA), while South Adelaide pair Teah Charlton and Indy Tahau are South Australia’s representatives, and Stephanie Williams (Darwin Buffaloes) is the lone Northern Territory selection.

Northern Knights’ undefeated premiership season has translated to contributing four of the 12 Vic Metro members, with early first pick contender Ellie McKenzie leading the pack. Sandringham had two products picked, while Eastern and Oakleigh had two each and Isabelle Pritchard was the lone Western Jet to get a nod. Eight Vic Country representatives also made the squad, with a trio of Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels leading the line from a Geelong Falcons pairing and single selections from Dandenong, Murray and Gippsland.

The Level 1 squad features four representatives each from Queensland, Vic Metro, and Vic Country, with 2019 NAB League best and fairest winner Georgie Prespakis (Calder) headlining the list from the likes of Cannons teammate Tahlia Gillard and Tara Slender. Queenslander Tegan Levi (Broadbeach) joins sister Maddison (Level 2) in the academy, while Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh) – sister of Sydney’s James – also makes the list. Promising Tasmanian Amy Prokopiec (Clarence) is her state’s sole selection, with Ally Morphett (Murray Bushrangers) the same for NSW/ACT, and Zoe Prowse (Sturt) for South Australia, while Western Australia has two representatives.

Academy members will all have the chance to train with AFLW clubs across December and January, while also attending high performance training camps in January, April, and August.

Level 2 Squad:

Tarni Evans Queanbeyan Tigers NSW/ACT
Abby Favell Murray Bushrangers NSW/ACT
Emily Pease Belconnen Magpies NSW/ACT
Jayde Hamilton Queanbeyan Tigers NSW/ACT
Stephanie Williams Darwin Buffaloes NT
Annise Bradfield Southport QLD
Zimmorlei Farquharson Calamvale/Yeronga QLD
Daisy D’Arcy Hermit Park QLD
Maddison Levi Bond University QLD
Teah Charlton South Adelaide SA
Indy Tahau South Adelaide SA
Tyanna Smith Dandenong Stingrays Vic Country
Darcy Moloney Geelong Falcons Vic Country
Laura Gardiner Geelong Falcons Vic Country
Maggie Caris GWV Rebels Vic Country
Isabella Simmons GWV Rebels Vic Country
Renee Saulitis GWV Rebels Vic Country
Olivia Barber Murray Bushrangers Vic Country
Megan Fitzsimon Gippsland Power Vic Country
Alyssa Bannan Northern Knights Vic Metro
Tarni Brown Eastern Ranges Vic Metro
Alice Burke Sandringham Dragons Vic Metro
Jessica Fitzgerald Northern Knights Vic Metro
Sarah Hartwig Sandringham Dragons Vic Metro
Mimi Hill Oakleigh Chargers Vic Metro
Ellie McKenzie Northern Knights Vic Metro
Olivia Meagher Eastern Ranges Vic Metro
Isabelle Pritchard Western Jets Vic Metro
Joanna Lin Oakleigh Chargers Vic Metro
Isabella Eddey Sandringham Dragons Vic Metro
Maeve Chaplin Northern Knights Vic Metro
Sarah Verrier Peel Thunder WA
Shanae Davison Swan Districts WA
Isabella Lewis Claremont Tigers WA
Mikayla Morrison East Perth Royals WA

Level 1 Squad:

Amy Prokopiec Clarence TAS
Ally Morphett Murray Bushrangers NSWACT
Teagan Levi Broadbeach QLD
Bella Smith Maroochydore QLD
Maggie Harmer Maroochydore QLD
Mikayla Pauga Maroochydore QLD
Zoe Prowse Sturt SA
Tara Slender Bendigo Pioneers Vic Country
Nyakoat Dojiok GWV Rebels Vic Country
Ella Friend GWV Rebels Vic Country
Jaide Anthony Dandenong Stingrays Vic Country
Tahlia Gillard Calder Cannons Vic Metro
Georgie Prespakis Calder Cannons Vic Metro
Charlie Rowbottom Oakleigh Chargers Vic Metro
Maykaylah Appleby Northern Knights Vic Metro
Charlotte Thomas Subiaco Lions WA
Courtney Rowley Peel Thunder WA

Vic Country run out narrow winners after impressive final term

VIC Country’s Under-16 side has triumphed in the final game of the AFL Women’s Under 16 Championships, running over the top of a fast-starting Metro side with a final quarter burst. Murray Bushrangers’ Keeley Skepper starred, roaming around the ground and having an influence across four quarters, while Matilda Hardy and Emelia Yassir were equally impressive through the midfield for the Metro side.

Metro dominated the opening term but it was Geelong Falcons’ Analea McKee who hit the scoreboard first with great body position one-on-one to run onto a loose ball over the back and put her side on the board. It did not take long for Metro to apply the possession dominance to the scoreboard, with Sandringham Dragons’ Ebony Angelopoulos putting the Metro team back in front, followed by majors to Calder Cannons’ Tahlia Gillard and Northern Knights’ Maykaylah Appleby.

Trailing by 14 points at the first break, it was Country’s turn to control possession but not impact the scoreboard, until McKee slotted her second at a crucial time to pump up her side. Luckily for Country, Metro could only manage the one behind, as the likes of Geelong Falcons’ Elizabeth Dowling and Bendigo Pioneers’ Tara Slender were rebounding everything out of the back half, while Gippsland Power’s Macie Gilmour was strong around the ground, taking a huge mark late in the term, coming off worse for wear before returning after the long break.

When Sandringham Dragons’ Charli Murphy converted her set shot after a strong mark inside 50 early in the third, and Metro was looking dangerous, the signs were ominous for Country. Little did the crowd expect, Country was about to take complete control with the four last goals of the game. Murray Bushrangers’ small forward, Cassidy Mailer converted, as did Gippsland Power tall, Tyla Angwin to draw level by the final break.

With the game evenly poised, Country was the team that took the game on and Gilmour and Tahlia Meier both converted goals to put the result beyond doubt, holding Metro scoreless in the final term to run out 6.8 (44) to 4.6 (30) winners. Grace Matser‘s work in the ruck was impressive with the Gippsland Power tall having an influence around the ground, while Calder Cannons duo, Kasey Lennox and Peppa Poultney were also impressive across the four quarters.

The victory was well deserved for a Country side that controlled play after quarter time, booting five of the last six goals of the match to enjoy a victory over the short series of matches. While Metro could not take home the chocolates, they celebrated a win previously against NSW/ACT Rams, while Country went down to South Australia. For the Under-16 players, they now head back to their local clubs as they keep an eye on their Under-18 teammates on the Gold Coast, aspiring to be in their shoes in 12 and 24 months time.

VIC COUNTRY 1.0 | 2.4 | 4.6 | 6.8 (44)
VIC METRO 3.2 | 3.3 | 4.6 | 4.6 (30)

GOALS:

Vic Country: A. McKee (Geelong) 2, C. Mailer (Murray), T. Angwin (Gippsland), M. Gilmour (Gippsland), T. Meier (GWV)
Vic Metro: E. Angelopoulos (Sandringham), T. Gillard (Calder), M. Appleby (Northern), C. Murphy (Sandringham)

BEST:

Vic Country: K. Skepper (Murray), A. McKee, M. Gilmour, T. Slender (Bendigo), E. Dowling (Geelong), G. Matser (Gippsland)
Vic Metro: M. Hardy (Eastern), E. Yassir (Calder), K. Lennox (Calder), S. Reid (Oakleigh), P. Poultney (Calder), J. Woods (Western)

Scouting notes: AFLW U16 Championships – Vic Country vs. Vic Metro

THE Under 16 Girls national carnival wrapped up over the weekend, and Vic Country managed to get one-up on their Metro counterparts in a hard-fought 14-point win. We were on hand to take note on players who caught the eye. All notes are opinion-based of the individual writer.

Vic Country

By: Taylah Melki

#3 Poppy Schaap (Geelong Falcons)

Good long booming kick to push the ball forward and was good in close to try and win the ball for Vic Country. She was not afraid to put her body on the line and get involved in the contest going in hard at every opportunity. Showcased great footy smarts with a clever tip out the contest to try and flick the ball out to a teammate. Schaap won a free kick but was unable to capitalise in front of goal just missing but ran hard all game to open up the forward line and laid some big tackles throughout the match.

#5 Gabbi Featherson (Geelong Falcons)

Featherson worked tirelessly in defence and used her strength and speed to break away from the pack and push the ball forward. She showed good courage to stand under the ball and take a good contested grab. She was composed with ball in hand, displayed a strong set of hands throughout the match and highlighted her ability to read of the flight of the ball to position well and take it cleanly. Her kicks out of the goal square showed good footy smarts to kick to a player on the lead and make sure they were perfectly weighted to her teammates advantage.

#14 Tara Slender (Bendigo Pioneers)

Slender worked her way into the game taking a good pack mark that showed her impressive elevation to get over the back of her opponent and propel the ball back forward for Vic Country. She had strong hands under pressure and showed great intent to continuously push the ball forward and provide scoring opportunities for her team. Slender did not back down from the contest applying good strong physical pressure laying tackle after tackle highlighting her intent to win the ball.

#18 Analea McKee (Geelong Falcons)

McKee led the way in Vic Country’s forward 50 kicking their first goal of the second quarter and presenting well up at the footy. She had clean hands and good leading patterns to create space in the forward 50 on multiple occasions. Good read of the play snatching the ball out of her opponents hand and kicking the ball long down the line. She was barely beaten in a one on one using her body well and strength to outmuscle her opponent and win the ball for Vic Country.

#19 Ella Friend (GWV Rebels)

She was electric and at times seemed to have the ball on a string gaining plenty of touches and always near the footy. Friend contested hard and used her quick hands to dish the ball out of traffic and onto a teammate. She worked tirelessly to win the ball in close and offered up at the footy to take a good mark. Friend displayed her clever decision making, to move the ball into a better position in the forward 50 with a carefully weighted kick inboard and took a very strong mark in the final quarter to lift her side. She pushed up hard to trap the ball in Vic Country’s attacking 50 and showed good composure to stand under the ball and control the mark.

#20 Elizabeth Dowling (Geelong Falcons)

She was a lynchpin down in defence and stood up under the pressure throughout the match. She worked tirelessly in defence and used her quick hands to move the ball out of dangerous positions on multiple occasions throughout the game. Dowling displayed her general footy smarts and ability to make good decisions when under pressure not get flustered or blazing away. She tried to repel the attacking forays of Vic Metro dropping back into gaps and taking a few big marks to stop their forward momentum.

#22 Nyakoat Dojiok (GWV Rebels)

Had a bit of a slow start but worked her way into the game in the second quarter with her clean hands and clever body positioning to out position her opponent. At times she was unable to capitalise doing all the ground work but missing the finishing touches with a couple of dropped marks but her intent and skill were certainly there. Dojiok showed her talent below her knees with a good pick up off the deck. She had a good passage of play showcasing her speed to break away from the pack in the defensive 50 and drill the ball forward. Almost claimed goal of the game in the final quarter surging forward but was unable to capitalise with the ball sliding through the point post.

#24 Keeley Skepper (Murray Bushrangers)

Skepper played a huge role down in defence for Vic Country winning plenty of the ball proving to be a dominant force down back. She repelled plenty of ball that came her way sending it back down the line and bodied up well on her opponent to make sure they did not get an easy shot at goal. She held her own in one on one contests and showcased her good vision to kick to a teammate in space while also highlighting her intent to apply attacking pressure to move the ball out of defence.

Vic Metro:

By: Michael Alvaro

#3 Ebony Angelopoulos (Sandringham Dragons)

Started brightly with her work inside 50, and booted Metro’s first goal of the game after out-bodying her opponent to mark and converting into the open goal. Looked lively and kept busy in the forward half, keeping relevant without the ball as she caught an opponent holding the ball on her offensive arc. Faded out of the game somewhat as Country got on top, but has some good spark.

#4 Emilia Yassir (Calder Cannons)

Looked very Madison Prespakis-like in her Metro #4, and plays a bit like her as a nuggety Cannons midfielder who does just about everything through the engine room. While her contested ball winning ability is obvious and damaging, Yassir really made an impact with her pressure around the ball – laying some crunching tackles and crashing her opponents in aerial contests. Just kept on hunting the ball at stoppages and proved hard to tackle, pumping her legs to break away from congestion and get a kick off. Also looked strong overhead for her size and isn’t afraid to compete in the air, which can be put down to her aggression and clean hands. Contributed a couple of neat touches with an accurate kick to find Charli Murphy inside 50, as almost got on the board by ultimately sprayed her shots on goal. One of Metro’s clear best.

#6 Emma Stuber (Sandringham Dragons)

Another who made a good start, Stuber looked a handy intercept and rebound half-back flanker. The Dragons product got to a wealth of ground-ball contests coming off the defensive 50 arc after centre bounces, mopping up and disposing of the ball quickly. She played a key role in keeping Country relatively quiet in the first half, but was not as prevalent after the main break.

#9 Matilda Hardy (Eastern Ranges)

Was named Metro’s best and rightly so, as she built into the game nicely and seemed to be everywhere at times. Made a bit of a slow start in the first half, but really came to life off the wing after the main break with some key touches moving forward. Worked really well on the outside to receive handballs from the likes of Yassir, and gained some good meterage on the back of it. Showed her class in traffic early in the last quarter with a stop and prop as opponents ran past, while also competing well twice in one-on-one marking contests. Look for her to be a very handy link between the arcs in the future.

#11 Maykaylah Appleby (Northern Knights)

The premiership Knight assumed her typical role on the opposite wing to Hardy, working hard forward to make an impact. Is most prominent on the run, most often finishing with long kicks down the line, but also looks dangerous inside 50 – as she showed with a spin at pace and checkside shot on goal in the final term. While that shot fell short, Appleby had already hit the scoreboard in the first quarter from a free kick. She loves a celebration, and always seems to be a vocal member of the team on-field.

#17 Kasey Lennox (Calder Cannons)

Lennox was solid as a rock in defence and while Country eventually broke through after half time, the Calder gun more than played her part in the resistance. Reads the play well and moved off her direct opponent to intercept multiple times, forming a wall for Metro. Always looked for distance with her kick-outs but lacked an option at times, and had a couple of unfortunate turnovers as Country poured the pressure on. Still looked astute deep inside the 50 and was hardly beaten, doing the defensive things well. Is obviously good in the air but also competed at ground level, running straight through the ball to mop up cleanly.

#22 Charlie Rowbottom (Oakleigh Chargers)

The sister of Sydney draftee, James, Rowbottom is a handy player in her own right. Made a particular impact in the air down back, winning one-on-one duels and proving strong on the last line to kill the ball. Was also quick to rebound once she had won possession, working actively to clear her lines. Was a little patchy as the game wore on, but made her presence known as she popped up in the final term with a solid pack mark in defensive 50.