Ackland loving Roosters culture

DEBUTING in the top women’s state league at 30 years-old is rare, but for North Adelaide tall Letisha Ackland, that was exactly her experience in 2022. The Blackfriars Old Scholars talent stepped up to South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s level last year after training with the club over the off-season. Not expecting much, Ackland ended up debuting in Round 1 and playing seven games.

It was a whirlwind of a year for Ackland who played the seven League games and two Development matches before returning to her local club and winning the Division 2 League Medal. It was a surprise for Ackland, who only returned six rounds into the season, but made up for lost time, polling 17 votes in just nine games. She booted 11 goals in those games, including bags of four twice.

“Last year was my first year with SANFL,” Ackland said. “I did get asked to get to come up and train the year before, I’m now in my fourth season with football and second season of SANFL. I ended up winning the league medal in my local after playing seven games with North and then going back to my local. It’s been quite a journey, a hop, skip and jump from Amateur up into SANFL.”

Coming from a basketball background, the 174cm forward/ruck is someone who enjoys physicality in sport, and that translated onto the field. Along with her high endurance base and impressive leap, Ackland caught the eye of the North Adelaide recruitment team and thrived under Roosters coach Krissie Steen, averaging 9.6 disposals, 1.9 marks and 2.0 tackles per game, kicking a goal in Round 9 against the Panthers.

“I was a bit too rough on the basketball court and it (the court) was a bit too small and then women’s football started coming along pretty hot and heavy as a sporting community,” Ackland said. “I think I’ve got the legs to run a full oval which is nice so I just really enjoyed the club culture side of things as well and getting around each other.”

Though not able to hold her spot for the entire season, Ackland enjoyed the competitive nature of the sport, and the Roosters’ culture.

“The competitiveness is great,” Ackland said. “It actually just gets the girls make you want to go to that next level and they see the potential in you. In terms of holding your spot in the team and being within those positions that you like and prefer, but it’s also great for the team to get around it and support each other, I liked it.”

North Adelaide went on to win the SANFL Women’s flag, defeating Sturt in the grand final, and despite Ackland not being among the 21 premiership players out on the ground, she felt as much involved as those who ran out.

“It was a team effort, we’re all there together and we all were there every step of the way so I was with the girls in terms of training so we were just getting together and making sure that our grand final team got across the line and they did,” Ackland said. “With North we proved we’re pretty great with our lead-up and supporting the girls and having everyone around that day. Emotions were pretty high and the celebrations were good.

“I think all the girls were just hungry to be better footballers as well as their own personal health and fitness. We all push each other along, we all get around each other so those side of things is just having a great group of people and women around you and having a great culture.”

A spot has potentially opened up inside 50 for Ackland, with the departure of Jade De Melo (Port Adelaide and back home in Perth) and limited time for AFLW Rising Star Hannah Ewings. Ackland said she was happy for the pair who were drafted, and said she looked forward to potentially slotting in there, as well as rotating through the ruck with new recruit, Isabelle Starmer.

“We always share the same positions and filtering through so it’s nice that those girls have been noticed in those spots,” Ackland said. “Jade De Melo and myself look very similar and Hannah Ewings, no one else can play like her. There’s a lot of girls in there who are absolute jets at what they do. We all have our own niche in our own positions. It fills in a spot and hopefully we’re up there and people are looking.

“I usually play key forward especially in my local as well so I’m quite a utility there especially with my height and my vertical leap is quite enormous as well. It’s quite up there, so I’ve definitely played against Izzy Starmer in the ruck so between both of us I’m happy to play where I’m needed on the field and what suits the team the best. Obviously height and we’ve got hops, whether it’s some forward doing ruck or in the ruck itself, I’m happy to do what’s needed.”

Ackland was also full of praise for her Roosters coach, with Steen creating a fantastic culture allowing each and every player to feel connected and involved with the club.

“I’ve really enjoyed Krissie’s coaching to be honest, it’s why I came across to North to be honest,” Ackland said. “She just honestly just wants to expect the best of us as footballers so it’s been really great to have structure around there and how professional it is and the flags speak for themselves. Krissie’s a great one.”

In 2023, Ackland will focus on her fundamentals of ball skills, as well as continuing to work on running in order to add extra weapons to her game. Though it has proven tough to win two flags in a row at SANFL Women’s level, the North Adelaide tall said she backed her team in to be able to do it.

“I think our girls are just we’ve got the seasonal players who have just come through every year that are just there to help and guide the rest of the girls,” Ackland said. “They are very hungry for the sense of keeping that North stature. I bleed red and white anyway so us girls to get back up there and keep that structure within the team is just around the culture so experienced, new, any players that come through we’re all together as one.”

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