ON a perfect Tuesday night, 16 of the brightest prospects from around the country took to GMHBA Stadium as the AFLW Academy faced Geelong VFLW in a practice match. Under lights, the AFLW Academy showed how much promise they have, recording a 9.6 (60) to 2.0 (12) victory over the Cats. Julia Montesano and Peter Williams were there to capture the action and provided their opinion on how each of the 16 players performed.
The AFLW Academy squad pulled off a big win against Geelong’s VFL Women’s team on Tuesday night with a 48-point victory. The squad was mostly filled with TAC Cup girls, including three from the Geelong Falcons and the Dandenong Stingrays.
The first half consisted of goals from Calder captain, Madison Prespakis, Gippsland co-captain, Tyla Hanks and Dandenong forward, Brooke Struylaart. Prespakis took care of all the scoring in the first quarter, kicking a behind and a goal to give the squad a one-point lead over Geelong, who had opened up the scoring for the match. This all-round effort gave the AFLW Academy a 17-point lead at half time, after Geelong was not able to score in the second quarter.
The AFLW Academy side was quite attacking but Dandenong captain, Jordyn Allen and Murray’s Rebecca Webster were still able to stand up in defence. Allen displayed great composure with the ball in hand while Webster produced some brilliant kicks to teammates, and even spent some time in the midfield. They were often the catalysts behind the AFLW Academy’s scoring, and in the third quarter it was GWV’s Sophie Van De Heuvel and Falcon, Nina Morrison who got on the end of some great play to boot their first majors for the game in the third quarter.
WA prospect, McKenzie Dowrick had been impressing all game with some beautiful kicking and impressive running, but really made her impact felt when she snapped an absolute beauty from the pocket in the fourth quarter. This quarter was owned by Geelong’s Denby Taylor, who made the shift from defence to forward, and had an immediate impact by kicking two goals. This extended the AFLW Academy’s margin to 48 points, which was the winning margin in a super performance by the next crop of talented footballers.
#1 Emerson Woods
After a quieter first term, Woods moved into the midfield and immediately had an impact, laying a bone-crunching tackle on her opponent on the wing. She relentlessly attacked the ball and showed no fear against her bigger opponents, providing a strong presence around the stoppages. She won a contested ball one-on-one at half-forward in the second term and after her first kick was partially smothered, she backed it up with a deeper kick to the pocket. Woods had a great moment in the third term where she dove for the ball and fired out a bullet to a teammate running past. Later on in that quarter she took a good mark dropping into the hole up forward, but her shot just fell short. In the final quarter she had a highlight play where she weaved around an opponent and did well to kick forward.
#2 Nina Morrison
A consistent player throughout the night, Morrison worked well with Geelong Falcons teammate Olivia Purcell through the midfield. Morrison showed quick hands early, getting a handball away while being tackled in the first term, before laying a strong tackle to create an inside 50 stoppage in a dangerous position. On a number of occasions, Morrison showed a great vertical leap, took a few good marks and put pressure on the ball carrier at ground level, in one instance forcing a boundary throw in. Morrison also showed good strength for a smaller player, shaking off two tackles in the third term and dishing out a quick handball to a teammate. She capped off a strong performance with a goal in the third quarter, kicking truly after a good team passage of play.
#3 Olivia Purcell
One of the top performers on the night, Purcell showed a great burst of acceleration out of a stoppage and got a kick away in the first term. She won a free kick when she was tackled too high in the second quarter, kicking long down forward. Her stoppage work and teaming up with Emerson Woods in the second quarter was promising, sidestepping opponents and kicking long. She spent time down back throughout the match and was able to remain composed as she moved out of a defensive 50 stoppage and kicked long to the win. She laid a few strong tackles and continued to work hard at the coal face. Purcell is one of those players who is able to think quickly and execute handballs out of congestion to a teammate, such as in the final term when she found Rebecca Webster between a couple of Geelong players.
#4 Denby Taylor
The reliable defender had most of the action in defence in the first term, laying a great tackle to signify her intentions early, and also showing good pace on the lead to spoil and when moving out of defence. After not much action in the middle two quarters, Taylor went forward in the final quarter, kicking two goals from set shots. In almost identical situations, she took a grab with strong hands in the air and showed her versatility, having an impact up forward. She also continued to show the same defensive pressure she did in the back half, laying a couple of strong tackles inside 50 and locking the ball up or forcing her opponent to cough it up.
#5 Sophie Van De Huevel
One of the classiest players in the team, Van De Heuvel does not do a lot wrong. She laid a good tackle in the first term and was unlucky the ball spilled out, but moved forward later in the match and took a great mark at the top of the 50m arc and pumped it long. Van De Heuvel won a free kick in the third term for in the back and converted the set shot to notch up a major on the night. She moved into the midfield in the final term and took a strong overhead mark on the wing and when she won the football was good in transition.
#7 Tyla Hanks
Arguably second best on the ground, Hanks just has an influence wherever she goes. She started up forward and with not much action in the Academy’s forward half, pushed up into the midfield where she began to get going. In the second term she took a great mark at full speed on the 50m line and spun around to burst away from her opponent who over committed at the marking contest. She hunted the ball and the player inside 50 in the second quarter and laid some fierce tackles, providing plenty of forward pressure. Hanks showed off some lightning hands at one stage, giving a quick handball, then was rewarded for her hard running with a great snap from the pocket for a goal. She also produced a nice kick to advantage for Libby Haines up forward. A fierce tackle right on the half-time siren signalled her intent, and she did not stop after half-time. Her biggest highlight came in the fourth term where she took a contested mark, turned her body around and managed to compose herself under pressure. A reward came not long after where she marked, turned and goaled.
#8 Madison Prespakis
Best on ground in our opinion and there was very little she did wrong all night. She was aggressive towards winning the football, hunted the opposition and just continually provided great pressure. She was a playmaker through the middle with other AFLW Academy members often looking for her to influence the contest moving forward. One of the few players who spent most of the night in the midfield, showing off great endurance to play out the game in the guts. She did move forward on a couple of occasions and booted a couple of goals, including the Academy’s first major late in the opening term. She might not be tall but she out-bodied bigger opponents in marking contests and not only finished with two goals, but set up a number of others, often looking for her teammates who were in better positions. Prespakis and Brooke Struylaart seemed to be on the same wave length on a number of occasions with the Calder Cannons gem hitting up the Dandenong Stingrays forward leading out at her. She almost kicked a third goal on the night but her snap under pressure in the second term just missed. Overall a terrific performance.
#9 Libby Haines
Mostly played up forward and the Tasmanian showed some good signs leading out from the square. She laid a few good tackles inside 50 causing ball-ups, while also always presenting for her midfielders. She dropped a couple of marks during the night but was under pressure, however she did back up with second efforts at ground level.
#10 Rebecca Webster
Another prominent midfielder for the AFLW Academy, Webster was strong in the contest and often matched her older opponents at the coal face. She played a well balanced game, winning her own football then going to the outside, receiving the handball and taking off. She was particularly prominent in the first half moving between midfield and defence, taking a couple of intercept marks, including one at half-forward to send the ball back where it came from. Webster laid a strong bump on her opponent in the back 50 and looked a natural in defence, then rotated back into the midfield in the third term, winning a clearance almost immediately. She covered the ground well and used good pace to keep the ball moving, kicking long inside 50 to put it to the danger zone and honouring Denby Taylor’s leads.
#11 McKenzie Dowrick
The sole West Australian prospect did herself proud on the night, playing up forward and across the wing. She showed good agility and movement early on out of defence when the ball was in Geelong’s 50, then took a huge mark at the top of the Academy’s forward arc. She looked to play on where possible and showed a good turn of speed to burst away and kick to the danger zone. Was one of the more prominent markers on the night, taking quite a lot of marks at half-forward and unsettling her opposing defenders. She kicked a fantastic goal from a snap in the final term and had a long shot on goal shortly after, but it just fell short. Still one of the better performers on the night.
#12 Jordyn Allen
Allen was solid early but it was the final term where she was really noticeable. After missing a set shot up forward in the second quarter, it was Allen’s defensive pressure around the ground and fierce tackles which were prominent from her early game. In the last quarter she was camped at half-back and looked like a complete natural, intercept marking, switching play and directing traffic from the back half. She ran back with the flight in one instance and was able to use her powerful kick to advantage. Allen seemed to have settled by the final term and was one of the best players in the quarter, winning plenty of it and also winning a free kick for being slung to the ground in the back pocket. Composure was her top attribute back there.
#13 Rene Caris
Had a big job in the ruck all night and held her own around the ground. She did not have the build of some of her opponents, but still won a number of taps with a great leap and clean pick-up at ground level. She took a good intercept mark on the wing at one stage and was used in transition on a number of occasions. Not a huge ball winner, but she was continually working hard at the stoppages and when she moved around the ground.
#15 Courtney Jones
After a quiet first term, Jones had a great run into the forward line in the second quarter and also produced a spearing pass inside 50 to hit-up Dandenong Stingrays teammate Brooke Struylaart. In the final term she went into defence, switching with Denby Taylor in her role and took a great one-on-one mark going backwards in what was a tough position to mark.
#16 Georgia Clarke
Looked composed throughout the night and did her best work down back. She showed great closing speed on the lead and either spoiled or contested strongly in the air. Another one who did not win a heap of the ball, but it was her defensive efforts and ability to beat her opponent one-on-one at times that stood out. She also showed good vision to pinpoint teammates with precise passes.
#17 Brooke Struylaart
One of the best in the first half, playing as a damaging forward. Her first key interaction was a spoil to keep the ball inside 50 after an opposition kick in and found Maddison Prespakis on the lead with a lace-out kick. As if a sense of deja vu, Struylaart hit-up Prespakis moments later when she was free in the goal square, for the Calder Cannons dynamo to capitalise with the AFLW Academy’s first major of the night. Struylaart moved into the midfield in the second term and showed good agility to turn away from her opponent and handball to a running teammate. She had a shot on goal later in the quarter and nailed the set shot from a tight angle. She also set up Nina Morrison with good vision and collected another goal assist, and while she tired as the game went on, she had still been influential early on. She spent some time in defence late to rest.
#18 Molly Warburton
Played in defence most of the night so it meant there was not a lot of ball coming her way. She applied pressure to her opponent in marking contests and offered up leads out of half-back. In the final quarter she contested well in a mark and got away a quick handball, then took a good mark in the back pocket but unfortunately the long kick went out of bounds.