Youth the key to sustainable Sturt success

STURT is more than capable of getting back to the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s Grand Final despite losing a number of players over the off-season according to midfielder Alisha Gepp. While inside midfielder Isobel Kuiper did her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in heartbreaking fashion during the finals series, the better departures were that of AFL Women’s draftees, Kiera Mueller and Alex Ballard.

Mueller went to the Crows and Ballard to Port Adelaide, and while it means Sturt will be minus a couple of quality defenders for points throughout the year, Gepp said the team mentality was key.

“I guess it just gives opportunity for the young ones to come up and show the talent they have and I guess maybe a bit of movement throughout the team just to fill the strong patches that were missing like Kiz and Ballard,” Gepp said. “I genuinely think that we’ve been working so hard in the preseason, getting around each other. New girls, new faces, so I think hopefully we’ll get up there again.”

On the pair getting drafted, Gepp said she was thrilled to hear their names called out, and to see them strut their stuff at the highest level.

“It’s really exciting for them,” she said. “I’m so proud for all of them, they both deserve to be up there, they’re both really talented girls. I genuinely believe they deserve to be there, but it will be a big impact losing them from our team.”

While Kuiper’s knee injury was devastating for the team, Gepp said she was looking to bring the intensity that her close friend provided each and every game in her absence.

“Izzy and I are actually really close as well, so her going down was very emotional for her, and not playing alongside her and she struggled a fair bit,” she said. “We always said as a midfield trio she always brought the intensity, the tackle pressure and just stepping up to bring the intensity and tackle pressure would be good.”

Gepp’s football journey began on a netball court and progressed onto the oval at the request of former Sturt coach, now West Adelaide leader Bruce Dawes. After initially being hesitant, Gepp took the plunge into the new code and loved it.

“I did netball and football in one year and found the love for footy more than netball,” Gepp said. “I kept playing footy and Bruce Dawes invited me out in my first year from footy to come out and trial for Sturt and I said no to him. I mainly said no because I was too scared to play against bigger girls.

“Looking back at it now I kind of regret not taking that opportunity so I started with Sturt through Bruce. He’s good mates with my dad and we connected in that way, and started Sturt this is my third year.”

Though now a hard-at-it midfielder, Gepp initially did not want to be thrown on-ball because she was “scared” of what might happen to her in there. Asking to play forward, Gepp eventually worked her way into the midfield and now she never wants to leave, with a hunger for finding the ball.

She describes her strengths as winning clean groundballs and her pace off the mark, while receiving coaches comments on her strength at the coalface, even though she does not consider it a a strength. She is working on adding more size to her frame, but is particularly focusing in on her kicking.

“I never knew how to kick a ball properly,” Gepp said. “Getting the one-handed kick properly, and being able to accelerate out of the packs and just kicking, execution.”

Coming into 2023, Sturt will go from the hunters to the hunted, after finishing agonisingly close to a fairytale flag. Though the challengers will come for the double Blues next season, Gepp said the improvement from one season to the next showed they are ready to sustain their spot at the top of the league ladder.

“You could see the massive improvement, but it kind of just showed throughout the seasons previous before I was there, that they’ve had the same gameplan and it was just good to see that we’ve finally achieved it,” Gepp said. “Having good young talent coming up is really good as well.”

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