Bat or ball, Rebels’ dual sport athlete keen to impress

DESPITE always having a bat and ball in her hands, an oblong shaped Sherrin was never too far out of reach in Sophie Van De Heuvel‘s household.

Growing up, Van De Heuvel was always a talented cricketer, but her family’s love for all things Australian Rules helped inspire her to give the sport a go. Since she took it up five years ago, Van De Heuvel has never looked back, and progressed from juniors through to Youth Girls and is a member of the AFLW Academy, playing a vital role with her TAC Cup club, the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels. Van De Heuvel said her family’s passion made her juggle between the two sports.

“It came from my brother and dad,” she said. “I just kind of got it from them. “Their skills and kind of being brought up from that; from Auskick and yeah straight into Youth Girls and Boys.”

Van De Heuvel said cricket has always been a part of her life, and as she approaches the nitty gritty top-age year of football, she hopes to follow in the footsteps of other dual-sport athletes such as Western Bulldogs premiership player Monique Conti, who has switched the Sherrin for a basketball as she heads back for the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season with the Melbourne Tigers.

“Cricket’s probably been all the way through,” Van De Heuvel said. “I’ve just got to find that balance between the two. Obviously mentally and physically, it’s just finding that balance. “I’m going to try and do both if I can, I guess whatever is thrown at me; any opportunity I’ll take. “Cricket training for me will start around July, June,” she said. “Then that will go all the way through to about March next year. “So yeah, it will be straight from footy to cricket.”

The TAC Cup Girls season has just two rounds left for the Rebels, who after a slow start, have strung some wins together over the past month and are firing on all cylinders. Like many top prospects, Van De Heuvel will try her hand against the experienced bodies in the Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW), when she dons the yellow and blue with the Seagulls.

“I’ve just signed with Williamstown, so I’ll play out there for the season, see how I go,” she said. “It will be really exciting. “Obviously it’s a great experience playing against the likes of Katie Brennan, people like that. “Hopefully I learn a lot.”

Van De Heuvel admitted she has learnt a lot in her time with the Rebels and AFLW Academy, thanking AFL Women’s Female Talent Operations Manager Aasta O’Connor and the rest of the team for passing on their knowledge.

“[It’s been] Really good,” she said. “Aasta’s taken us through that, (I’ve) learnt a lot from them and the other girls, and how well they’ve played.”

The versatile player has rotated between midfield and forward this season, preferring roaming through the centre, but also enjoying kicking goals in the forward half. Van De Heuvel said her main strengths were her ball skills, contested marking and tackling, with reading the play improving but still a focus, as was providing more leadership to younger players.

“I’ve played mostly in the midfield, but tend to get dropped for a lot,” Van De Heuvel said. “I prefer probably midfield, but I like both. “Both roles are good.”

With the end of the TAC Cup Girls season nearing, the National Under 18 Championships will begin, with Van De Heuvel tipped to be a key member of the Vic Country squad. It will be a full-on 12 months for the mid/forward, but she is ready for whatever may come as she juggles her two sporting loves.

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