Preview: 2016 Youth Girls National Championships

The annual AFL Youth Girls National Championships are once again here, with this year’s tournament possibly be the most important ever to occur.

2017 will mark the beginning of the AFL women’s national league featuring eight teams consisting of squads of 25 players. The squads will not only contain some of the current state league stars but also a good mix of young talent set to be discovered in Melbourne during the Championships.

Vic Metro will hope to repeat its efforts in 2015.

In this special preview of the 2016 Youth Girls National Championships, we chat with the coaches of the Pool A and Pool B teams to discuss how their squads have come together and who they expect to do well during this week-long carnival.

Western Australia (Pool A)

It’s safe to say last year’s Championships didn’t yield the results the West Aussies would have liked.

Image: Phil Barnes

Going into the tournament not only as reigning champs but also hosts, the girls would have been disappointed not to have made the Grand Final and renew their rivalry with Victoria Metro.

However, a long, tough preseason has given the Western Australians a harder edge as they take on the toughest task in footy: beating the Victorian sides in Melbourne to book a spot in the Pool A Grand Final at the MCG.

WA Youth Girls coach Clint Degebrodt told Girls Play Footy that his side has got the right mix of experienced and new players to get the job done.

“We’ve kept some quality players from last year who’ve lead the team really well like Bea Devlyn and Jasmine Stuart, [and] Rachel Ashley,” Degebrodt said.

“Maddi Ugle’s an explosive player, we’d expect her to launch off; Megan Adams returns and she’s a tough little inside player.

“Katie Bartlett is upfront, as a full forward she can do most things up there, and we have some real hard nuts down back in Hayley Carstairs and Amber Goodwin.

“Ebonee Hardie comes back through, Courtney Hodder is a superstar … and some fantastic outside run from Chloe Metcalf … it really is a football team.”

Degebrodt explained the squad had not only been together for the past six months, but all the players had known each other for quite some time.

“They’ve been together since November and 10 to 12 of them have repeated this program [in previous championships].

“Meanwhile, these girls had played together in the state 16s program under Ollie Beef, so most of these girls know each other very well.

Although WA footballers are traditionally suited to fast, flat tracks, Degebrodt says they’ve been training hard to beat the Victorians at their own natural game.

“We’ve trained the players to be as hard and desperate as we can inside in the Victorian style of footy, and then obviously we want to go WA [style] once we win the footy.”

“We know that they Victorians will beat us on the body inside so we’ve got to be up for that.

“That’s how the Vics play, it’s pure and it’s brilliant, so we’ve worked really hard to be at the coal face. But then we can get it outside from the coal face, we can run and stun them.”

Western Australia squad: Megan Adams, Rachel Ashley, Kate Bartlett, Hayley Carstairs, Dana Chatman, Beatrice Devlyn, Sonia Dorizzi, McKenzie Dowerick, Abby Duncan, Sabreena Duffy, Brittany Fabry, Courtney Fabry, Lindsey Fowles, Amber Goodwin-Wissink, Isobella Haigh, Ebonee Hardie, Caitlin Hill, Courtney Hodder, Tayla McAuliffe, Emily McGuire, Chloe Metcalf, Kira Morrison, Emily Pickett, Ruby Schleicher, Mikaela Schoenfeld, Jasmin Stewart, Maddison Ugle

Victoria Country (Pool A)

Since Victoria was split into two teams a few years ago, it’s been wins a plenty for the Metro squad while the Country side is yet to sing the victory song.

Image: AFL Victoria

However, 2016 could be the year the girls from the country break the duck, with matches being played in their home state as well as on the back of the Victorian Youth Girls academy series.

Also helping will be a fresh perspective from the coach’s box, with former Metro assistant coach Scott Gowans taking over the top job for Victoria Country.

Speaking to Girls Play Footy, Gowans said his side’s recent practice match against Victoria Metro allowed them to trial a few things and was pleased with the result.

“We’ve got a few different phases of game structure we wanted to teach the girls, so we practised that almost regardless of the scoreboard,” Gowans explained.

“The game itself was a massive success because it gave us all those key points and I think the game ended up being really close. I think it was 10 points they got us by in the end.

“I was really pleased with what we put out on the park.”

This year’s squad sees only one third of players from the previous championships retained; even so, Victoria Country will field a team that’s older on average than their opponents.

“We’re actually a fairly old group, we’ve got thirteen girls who are 18 in their top year,” Gowans said.

“Some of the girls are in their first or second year of footy, it’s just that they didn’t try out last year.”

Two names in particular pop off the page when taking a quick look at the Country squad: a previous Youth Girls Championships best and fairest winner in Lily Mithen, and Georgia Walker, who recently led the Dandenong Stingrays to a premiership in the Academy series.

“Lily’s a gun little player – she was captain last year and hasn’t got a leadership role officially, but she’s still a leader in the side.

“She has a really smart football brain, so she’ll have a really good carnival this year I think and she’s been allowed to play footy and not sort of worry about the leadership of things much. Georgia Walker is captain this year, stepping up from the role of vice-captain last year.”

The Victoria Country side is not just limited to two star players, with many others looking to catch the eyes of recruiters for next year’s AFL women’s league.

“Watch Bella Ayre; top age this year, she’ll run forward,” Gowans said.

“We’ve got Amy McDonald: smart midfielder, really silky sort of footballer.

“Bec Webster, who’s probably the opposite of Amy, she’s an inside mid player. If I was going to pick a surprise packet, I think she’s the one that really could step up.

If the girls from Country Victoria needed a carrot to inspire them to break through for their first win, it was presented when the fixture was released last week. The top two teams at the end of the Pool A round-robin will face-off in the Grand Final as a curtain-raiser to the Hawthorn-Richmond game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

“I don’t have to wave the carrot as they talk about it constantly,” Gowans laughed.

“I actually haven’t heard them say much about winning the title, but all they talk about is getting to the MCG.

“If we did get a couple of wins and managed to get on the MCG, I think they’d see that almost as their premiership or their title.”

Victoria Country squad: Isabella Ayre, Millie Brown, Sarah Chapman, Georgia Clarke, Tiahna Cochrane, Katelyn Cox, Suede Croad, Grace Egan, Luca Gallo, Darcy Guttridge, Julia Harvey, Reni Hicks, Bridie Kennedy, Shayla Marsh, Amy McDonald, Lucy McEvoy, Zoe Mitchell, Lily Mithen, Olivia Purcell, Alicia Rooth, Samantha Ryan, Emily Rylance, Mia Sheppard, Denby Taylor, Georgia Walker, Rebecca Webster, Holly Whitford

Queensland (Pool A)

There’s no doubt that last year’s Championships were a coming of age for the sunshine state.

Image: AFL Queensland

After all the hype about booming female participation numbers, Queensland made its biggest statements by defeating Victoria Country and Western Australia, as well as falling just short of knocking off Victoria Metro.

With confidence on their side, Queensland coach Craig Starcevich believes his squad can again mix it with the best and perhaps book a spot in the Grand Final to be played at the MCG.

“It was good [and] we might ditch out underdog status at some point,” Starcevich told Girls Play Footy.

“We’re certainly not the powerhouse Victorians or the West Australians, so it’s always a little bit of us against them.

“Last year was a really good opportunity out there [in Mandurah], having some really good players like Tayla Harris in her last year as a youth girl and being player of the carnival.

“It boils down to having a really good group; we think we’ve got another decent group this year.”

Unlike most other states such as Western Australia and South Australia where the talent is fairly centralised, Starcevich explained that the quality of footballers from up north is spread almost evenly throughout the state.

“The Darlings Downs, Toowoomba, Dalby, that sort of area has become a really fertile talent zone for us in the female space,” Starcevich said.

“We’ve got quite a few girls in our squad this year from the Darling Downs area, also three from Capricornia, around Rockhampton, Gladstone, one from Mackay, one from Cairns – them being spread across the state becomes a bit of a challenge.”

However, with occasional trips arranged by AFL Queensland to fly the girls into Brisbane, the squad has begun to gel nicely over the last few months.

Although missing the household name of Tayla Harris, who has now graduated to full-time senior women’s football, the Queensland coach explained there’s still plenty of players who excelled at last year’s Championships and he expects them to have another great carnival.

“From last year, we’ve got a couple of all-Australians that people might be familiar with,” Starcevich explained.

“Tahlia Randall has of course played in exhibition games, she’s back for her last year.

“Shaleise Law, Gabby Collingwood, Elisha King … and there will be a couple of others back up from last year.

Adding to that experience is a range of younger players who have shone within the Queensland academy.

“Sophie Conway, whose brother Isaac was drafted by the Lions a couple of years ago as a rookie, is from an elite hockey background. She’s been really good so far and slotted into club footy as well.

“Another girl, Shae Adams, she’s actually Jonathan Brown’s niece and plays like Browny as well, which is pleasing.

“She’s fairly fairly new to footy, believe it or not, and hasn’t played a whole lot of club footy, but is now playing at Coolangatta down on the Gold Coast.”

Queensland squad: Jemma Abbott, Shae Adams, Lauren Bella, Ruby Blair, Courtney Bromage, Arianna Clarke, Maddy Coe, Indiah Collings, Gabby Collingwood, Sophie Conway, Molly Cooper, Taylah Day, Taivia Dunne, Tori Graves-Little, Jessi Henning, Kalinda Howarth, Brianna Howell, Tashina Ketchup, Elisha King, Shaleise Law, Raegan Mills, Courtney Murphy, Alanna Perry, Tahlia Randall, Jess Watts, Tarni White, Jacqui Yorston

Victoria Metro (Pool A)

In a display of sheer dominance, Victoria Metro took back the Pool A championship last year by sweeping aside all opponents on the way to pencilling in an undefeated carnival.

Image: AFL Victoria

The hosts will go into the carnival as red-hot favourites and will be expected to sweep again, but with spots in next year’s national women’s league to be won, the tempo and pressure is sure to be turned up a couple of notches.

Reigning championship coach Wayne Siekman told Girls Play Footy that the Victoria Metro girls are looking forward to defending their title on home turf.

“It’s great for the players to be able to play in front of their parents,” Siekman explained.

“Not everyone can travel around Australia and afford a couple of extra airplane tickets to go watch their daughters play, so it’s great for them as well.”

For a Victorian Metro side that’s full to the brim with talent, there’s still a couple of names that easily stand out from the pack.

“It’s fantastic firstly to get Izzy [Isabel Huntington] back, because obviously she missed last year’s championships through injury.

“So she’s sort of a fresh player back on the scene. Coming back this year, she’s fitter and stronger, and as a 17-year-old she’s still got two years of youth girls footy.

“Katherine [Smith] who’s our captain this year, she just keeps ticking the boxes – outstanding leader on and off the field, and the way she plays she leads from the front in that regard.”

Having two stars like Huntington and Smith in one side would be enough to make any supporter happy, but the big names don’t just end there for the Vic Metro squad.

“Deanna [Berry], vice-captain this year and she’s just a big time player. When the big moment’s there, and the game’s there to be won or lost, she’s always standing up.

“Same with Monique Conti. Last year, first time in the team, made all-Australian.

“She was our leading possession getter and just a very hard player to run and tackle, and her decision making tops that off, too.”

Victoria Metro squad: Jordyn Allen, Deanna Berry, Emily Browning, Monique Conti, Sarah Dargan, Georgia Gee, Goergia Gourlay, Jasmine Grierson, Tyla Hanks, Anna Hayes, Isabel Huntington, Courtney Jones, Gemma Lagioia, Olivia McFawn, Karly McNiece, Taylor Mesiti, Nell Morris-Dalton, Madison Prespakis, Jess Provan, Isabel Quintal, Kayla Ripari, Jess Smith, Katherine Smith, Brooke Struylaart, Lauren Szigeti, Charis Ulu Peniata, Olivia Vesely

South Australia (Pool B)

Last year’s carnival was simply stunning for the South Australians, going through undefeated and accounting for all opposition with ease.

Image: SAWFL

It comes as a surprise that the team has not been promoted to Pool A to replace the winless Victoria Country, though a promotion could be on the cards if the SA girls repeat their 2015 performance.

Bill Economou continues as the head coach for South Australia and he told Girls Play Footy he’s excited about the challenge of defending their title.

“We’ve been working really hard as a team since about November and we’re really excited with the team we have,” Economou said.

“I’m really looking forward to going over to Melbourne; we’re of the strong belief we’re going to have a great Championships.”

Possible positions on the Adelaide Crows list for next year’s women’s national league await for the South Australian girls who do well in the Championships, and Economou said he expects a number of his players to impress recruiters.

“Our captain Ashleigh Woodland certainly is a player we feel is going to be respected by the opposition teams,” Economou said.

“I haven’t see a player play that position as well as she does. She’s got great skills, certainly attacks the ball, and her second and third efforts are fantastic.

“We also have Tait Mackrill, one of our strong midfielders. This girl’s skills are absolutely fantastic, she just knows how to win a hard ball.

“Eloise Jones, another player who comes from a basketball background, has certainly been given a fair bit of exposure to football this year. Another diamond that’s sort of come out of the blue and has absolutely fantastic skills, and seems to be in the right place at the right time.

“For me, I think Anne Hatchard will certainly be noted by other teams. She can play key centre half-back or your centre half-forward positions.”

South Australia squad:Jessica Allan, Paige Allan, Makayla Berg, Esther Boles, Bronwen Bosley, Rebecca Carey, Kyesha Christensen, Sarah Densley, Rachel Fillmore, Anne Hatchard, Amber James, Eloise Jones, Ella McDonald, Montana McKinnon, Tait Mackrill, Amy Millar, Tamika Nash-Hahn, Candice Prior, Katelyn Rosenzweig, Jaslynne Smith, Louise Spezzano, Marlee Stansfield, Brianna Walling, Ashleigh Woodland, Danielle Woods

Tasmania (Pool B)

With the end of the Thunder Devils, Tasmania now fields its own standalone side in the AFL Youth Girls National Championships.

Image: AFL Tasmania

The Apple Isle was a little late to the female footy revolution, with the state’s senior women’s league only created just on nine years ago. However, they’ve been rapidly setting a pace to catch up to the more established states.

AFL Tasmania football development manager Leigh Elder told Girls Play Footy that his state has begun putting the building blocks to help Tassie’s best female footballers excel.

“Female football is growing in massive numbers in Tasmania,” Elder explained.

“Having around 60 players in our academy in total has made dropping down the squad to 30 a bit of a task, then making the hard selection of 26.”

Within that number is a ring-in of sorts. As Youth Girls football develops across the Tasman in New Zealand, one player, Jolyn Collins, stood out from the pack and arrangements were made to let her take a place in the Tasmanian side.

Having the honour of leading the first standalone Tasmanian Youth Girls side is an all-Australian from last year’s carnival, Burnie’s Ellyse Gamble.

“Ellyse has been a great player in our system form quite a while,” Elder said.

“We’re looking forward in a new role; in the senior state game she played centre half-forward, so we’re just trying to add more strings to her bow to ensure she gets the greatest opportunity to be drafted.”

As much as most of the public’s attention is on Gamble, Elder said there were plenty of players in his state’s squad that he expects will impress at the Championships.

“Charlotte Kenny, who was born in 2000, she’s got a few more years in this system. Although her skills need a little bit of work, she has the height to be a key position player but is going to be one of these strong bodied midfielders. She really can get the contested ball.

“We’ve got a second ruckman in Maighan Singleton, who has actually been part of the Kickstart Championships previously.

“She’s been very impressive, even doing a bit of game simulation against Ellyse [Gamble], working over Ellyse as well which is just fantastic.

“Another on-baller that we think has got some real class is Emma Manix-Geeves. We think she’s going to be a fantastic little player.

“Georgia Hill, we think she’ll take another step forward and be in a key position up forward, and Courtney Webb we think is really ready to burst out and show she’s a class player.”

Tasmania squad: Daria Bannister, Maddison Bugg, Jolyn Collins, Maggie Cuthbertson, Ellyse Gamble, Luca Gwynne, Shannon Harris, Georgia Hill, Saasha Hinks, Charlotte Kenny, Zoe Knight, Emma Manix-Geeves, Zabreena Manjerovic, Loveth Ochayi, Sarah Radford, Alice Robinson, Maighan Singleton, Melissa Smith, Lela Spotswood, Courtney Stanley, Lauren Stevenson, Lizzie Stokely, Macklyn Sutcliffe, Jasmine Tate Turvey, Hannah Viney, Courtney Webb

Northern Territory (Pool B)

The other half of the former Thunder Devils partnership, the Northern Territory, will also field a standalone team in the 2016 AFL Youth Girls National Championships.

Image: NT News

Unlike the other squads who have all had a long preseason and are just now getting into some competitive club football, almost all of the NT girls have come off the back of a full league season and are primed and ready for the Championships.

AFL Northern Territory high performance manager Wally Gallio said about seven girls have been retained from last year’s Thunder Devils side and their experience will be important.

“Players like Tayla Thorn who played for The Woomeras come back and she’ll be part of the leadership group,” Gallio said.

“Amy Chittick, who was one of the older girls, she comes back to add a bit of experience, and both Amy and Tayla played recently in our senior women’s side against Tasmania.

“Jessica Stassi’s back, Che Cockatoo’s back, and then we’ve got a mixing of some really young talent.”

Thanks to the joint bid of the Adelaide Football Club and AFL Northern Territory, should any girl from the top end have a break-out carnival, they could be drafted by the Crows for the inaugural national league.

Gallio told Girls Play Footy they’ve been talking with the Crows and hope to see some of the best female footballers from the Territory on the national stage next year.

“We’ve had ongoing talks with the Adelaide Crows about the national league licence.

“We’ll continue to develop our list to give the girls around the draftable age the best chance to play at that level.”

Northern Territory squad: Shaqkayla Bading, Janet Baird, Shayla Barba, Calista Boyd, Amy Chittick, Bella Clarke, Che Cockatoo, Alana Coombes, Azra Cooper, Chiarah Corpus, Shainaye Daven, Tishara Davern, Shekeine De Satge, Tanisha Garling, Julieanna Kerinaiua, Nakita Long, Tabitha May, Arthurina Moreen, Isabell Porter, Evelyn Raparrk, Clare Rogers, Jessica Stassi, Felicia Swan, Shagqelle Swan, Tayla Thorn, Samantha Vanderberg, Segora Vigona, Kiara White

New South Wales-Australian Capital Territory (Pool B)

The sky blue, navy and gold head into the 2016 AFL Youth Girls National Championships looking to go one better than last year, when they made the Pool B Grand Final but were easily defeated by South Australia.

Image: Phil Barnes

The combined states head into this year’s Championships retaining eleven players from last year’s carnival; however, they will be without stars Jodie Hicks and Bec Beeson who have graduated to senior women’s club football.

Their absence will see Blaise Miller-Hill step up, and after her performance last year, expect the girls from NSW-ACT to look to her and Angela Priftis to inspire them.

On paper, they should account for the Northern Territory and The Woomeras, with their high-noon game against South Australia at Punt Road, possibly deciding who takes home the Pool B title.

Looking to the future, those who perform well over the carnival will be on the radar of the Greater Western Sydney Giants, who appear poised to pick up a national league licence.

NSW/ACT squad: Zoe Allen, Chloe Arndt, Gerogia Breward, Pippy Clegg, Ellie Degarno Fixter, Kaitlyn Dobing, Renee Friend, Maggie Gorham, Lexi Hamilton, Chelsey Hamilton, Jordyn Joliffe, Natasha McKay, Erin McKinnon, Blaise Miller-Hill, Alyce Parker, Elisa Pevere, Angela Priftis, Taylor Quinton, Rosie Ronan-Yates, Kate Stanton, Hannah Stewart, Jessica Stramandinoli, Margot Vella, Britt Walker, Jemima Wrigley, Haneen Zrieka

The Woomeras (Pool B)

The AFL’s indigenous team known as The Woomeras are back again for another Youth Girls Championships carnival.

Image: Phil Barnes

Picked from the best players in the Kickstart Championships, The Woomeras last played together back in December in a successful 2-0 series sweep against New Zealand, where they held the Kiwis scoreless throughout both matches.

Led by the likes of Tasmanian Sophie Townsend and goalkicking machine Maddison Yarran, The Woomeras will again produce some fast, exciting football and be looking to improve on their one win from last year’s carnival.

If the indigenous side can get a win early in the Championships against NSW/ACT, their games against Tasmania and the Northern Territory look winnable and could provide a path to the Pool B title should results go their way.

The Woomeras squad: Deanna Austral, Wrylka Colburn, Karri Doyle, Jada Edwards, Tanee Fauid, Teanna Fuji, Martina Karadada, Sharnyce Krakouer, Cheyene Macumber, Bullet Morgan, Moesha Morgan, Hadassah Nicholson, Allanaha Phineasa, Zania Rice, Ruby Riley, Chiarah Rusca, Tahlia Strong, Felisha Swan, Fabian Tabuai, Tamara Thomas, Sophie Townsend, Kyanne, Warlapinni, Vanessa White, Madison Yarran

2016 Youth Girls National Championships Fixture

For live stream by the AFL click here

Day 1: Monday, May 2 (Glasshouse, Collingwood FC, cnr Olympic Blvde and Batman Ave, Melbourne)
10:30am – Vic Metro vs Queensland
12:10pm – South Australia vs Tasmania
1:50pm – Western Australia vs Vic Country
3:30pm – Woomeras vs NSW/ACT
Pool B bye: Northern Territory

Day 2: Tuesday, May 3 (Trevor Barker Oval, Sandringham)
9:00am – Tasmania vs Northern Territory
10:40am – Western Australia vs Vic Metro
12:20pm – Woomeras vs South Australia
2:00pm – Queensland vs Vic Country
Pool B bye: NSW/ACT

Day 3: Wednesday, May 4 (REST DAY)

Day 4: Thursday, May 5 (Coburg City Oval, Coburg)
10:00am – Woomeras vs Tasmania
11:40am – Queensland vs Western Australia
1:20pm – Vic Country vs Vic Metro
3:00pm – NSW/ACT vs Northern Territory
Pool B bye: South Australia

Day 5: Friday, May 6 (Punt Road Oval, Richmond/MCG)
10:30am – Northern Territory vs Woomeras
12:10pm – (Third in Pool A) vs (Fourth in Pool A)
1:50pm – South Australia vs NSW/ACT
5:20pm – Pool A Grand Final: (First in Pool A) vs (Second in Pool A)

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