WHEN Lauren Szigeti ran out on a football field for the first time, there was no elite pathway for women in Australian Rules. Unlike many contemporaries, the fact there was no national competition did not douse her desire to get the best out of herself. In fact, she grabbed every opportunity she could, playing all through her teenage years and now, in her top-age season, won a club best and fairest and earned state representation – a fitting honour for someone who never stopped believing.
“I started back in Auskick when I was probably about five or six and then just got into that through my brother playing footy and my dad as well,” Szigeti said. “Then I played juniors with the boys until I was 13 or 14 and then went to girls footy and then went from there.”
Szigeti had dipped into a number of different sports in her young life, but believed the close bond you share with your teammates in an Aussie Rules team trumps anything else.
“I just love the culture,” Szigeti said. “I’ve played basketball and tennis, I’ve played a lot of that when I was younger, but I always loved footy the most. “Just the environment, friendships that you make and I feel like you make a real special connection with the girls in your team and I’ve loved that.”
The Eastern Ranges defender enjoys the challenges of playing at half-back, because she gets to balance between “attacking a bit” and defending. Szigeti said her skills and game-related attributes were among her strengths, having played for all her life, while her aerobic fitness was something she was keen to build. She ensured she worked closely with those Ranges girls who crossed from other codes to help improve each other.
“I guess I sort of go to those girls because they’re always the real athletic ones,” Szigeti said. “So I go to them for that side of things, but they come to me to be able to read the game and things like that. “I do have that experience, so I enjoy helping in that way.”
Szigeti said the depth of talent at not only TAC Cup Girls level, but across the entire region was noticeable, even in the short time she had been involved in the eastern region programs.
“I can’t put into words how much I reckon it’s lifted, even since last year,” Szigeti said. “It’s just crazy, the overall standard has just raised heaps. “Even just the under 15s interleague before. “Just thinking back when I was 15, playing interleague. “Their level is just so much higher than what we were, it’s just awesome.”
It is no surprise the talented Ranges leader had a big top-age year, earning selection for Vic Metro and playing against some of the nation’s top players on the Gold Coast, as well as taking out the Eastern Ranges best and fairest award.
“It (getting selected for Vic Metro) was incredible,” Szigeti said. “You kind of have it in the back of your head throughout the season, it was such a relief to finally get that letter. “To not always have that lingering, it was awesome.”
Szigeti said she was disappointed when the TAC Cup Girls season came to an end after everything the team had gone through together week-in, week-out.
“(I) loved it,” she said. “Absolutely loved it. “I’m so sad that it’s done. “I always loved coming to training every week, playing the games. “We’ve got a real good group of girls, we made all good connections.”
Since finishing up at Eastern, Szigeti has been working hard with Darebin Falcons in the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s, having already played a handful of games this season.
“I know a few girls there and obviously it’s a real successful club with a really good culture,” Szigeti said.
She almost had the opportunity to play against Ranges’ teammates Emerson Woods and Sarah Kendall when the Falcons clashed with Hawthorn, but just missed out as an emergency. Szigeti said prior to the season it would be an interesting challenge to face-off against some of her close friends.
“It would be pretty funny,” she said. “We talked about it a couple of times how we might end up coming up against each other. “It would be pretty weird, after becoming so close here, but would be good fun.”
Like most top-age TAC Cup Girls, Szigeti has had to find the balance between her sport and studies. She said she has used football as a way of taking a mental break from the book work.
“I’m in Year 12 so I’ve got school and then training here and now for VFL and then going to the gym and stuff, usually I’ve got something on everyday,” Szigeti said. “It’s just finding that balance between sport and school. But I kind of use sport as a release from school but I enjoy having a lot of things on, because it gets you to smash out your work quickly.”
For Szigeti, playing AFL was a dream when it “didn’t even exist” so it was always her “number one long-term goal”. She said she cannot believe how much women’s football has grown in recent years and how close she could be to her dream, should it come true.
“It’s crazy,” she said. “It’s crazy how far it’s come. “Knowing how it actually is a real thing that could happen in the next six months. “It’s really exciting, a bit scary, but it’s exciting.”