Sturt prepared to be hunted after breakout 2022

AFTER an outstanding 2022 South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s campaign, Sturt captain Maya Rigter knows her side is no longer the underdog. The spiritual leader who has developed into a strong defender following ongoing ankle issues, said her side is well aware it has now become “one of the hunted” but will not “shy away” from the Double Blues’ goal of winning a flag.

Rigter played a full season and said despite another off-season surgery, is feeling better than ever. So much so, the captain even partook in the preseason testing just over a week ago. Having trained with her teammates rather than watching on from the sidelines as had so often been the case for the 22-year-old, she is optimistic not just about her own season, but that of Sturt’s too.

When it comes to the feeling around training and confidence within the group, Rigter said that was a noticeable change and understanding internally that 2023 would come with its own challenges.

“It’s different this year because we’re now one of the hunted whereas last year we were aiming to go to big heights but now we reached that grand final obviously didn’t win it,” Rigter said. “We’ve now got a target on our backs so people look what we do a lot more and again we’ve had conversations in the club, we need to focus on internal.

“We don’t need to focus on external, that will all take care of itself. That doesn’t matter, we’re just focusing on what we can do, and on us, so we’ve always had really good culture we’re continuing to build that and carry that through but also working harder this year. “

In 2022, the Double Blues went 5-0 to start the season to not only put themselves in an outstanding position, but also surpass their previous best season record of three wins. Though the loss of a number of key players through injury and state representation hurt over the next few weeks, Sturt still won four of its last five games, then earned a place in the grand final.

When asked about the moment she knew that Sturt was the “real deal”, Rigter pointed to the wins over Glenelg and North Adelaide in Rounds 2 and 3. She described the Roosters game as “really contested” where they won 1.4 (10) to 0.7 (7), which came a week after defeating Glenelg, 5.3 (33) to 3.5 (23).

“We played Glenelg and I think that was a really hard-hitting affair where they gave it to us the whole time. I think that game and when we had won a few in a row was when it clicked for a few of us that ‘oh this is actually something that we can achieve and we can go the distance this year’,” Rigter said. “It’s all just about self belief.

“I think the first four years we’ve had a bit of it, but it’s easy to not carry it through so just last year getting a few wins under your belt, it then just gives everyone a bit of confidence, and confidence is a really big thing in sport, but so is competence. Actually being able to do the things you want to do, which last year clicked for us because we’ve had four years of training that and implementing it.”

Sturt will head into next season minus a trio of talented players with defenders Kiera Mueller (Adelaide) and Alex Ballard (Port Adelaide) getting their chance at the top level, while an anterior cruciate ligament injury to inside midfielder Isobel Kuiper also rules her out for the upcoming SANFL Women’s season. Rigter said it was “absolutely amazing” to see the pair get their chances, and while it would be a disappointment to lose them, and be minus Kuiper for the season, she was not concerned about the impact on-field.

“I think the one thing that Sturt we pride ourselves on is we don’t have any superstars in our team,” she said. “We do have some really good players, but most importantly we know how to play our role. Our system is based around roleplaying so there’s no if someone goes out we’ll be able to fill that seamlessly and be there each other as a team so I don’t think it will be an issue for us.”

On a personal level, Rigter’s goal is simple – stay injury free and pick up from where she left off at the end of 2022 – while hoping to be the one lifting the premiership cup aloft at the end of the season.

“I’m definitely hoping to get through injury free,” Rigter said. “I haven’t missed too many games, it’s always been something that’s flared up in the off-season so navicular’s all good now, same surgeon did the right foot with the ankle so very grateful for him and all the work he’s put in and I actually wouldn’t be playing without him.

“Bit surreal that I’m still able to sit here and play but to get through injury free but to build on the way I finished off last year and get better than that. Team wise to win the flag, we’re not going to shy away from that.”

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