On and off-field growth the key for GWV

GREATER Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels coach Sally Riley is all about not worrying. Like anyone who is in competitive sport, winning is enjoyable, but understanding that mistakes are okay is what will help build the growth at the Ballarat-based Coates Talent League club.

There is plenty to like about a young Rebels outfit who play their first game against Geelong Falcons at Deakin University in Waurn Ponds, but for Riley, it marks the start of the second phase of the season.

“I can’t wait. It’s been a long time coming,” Riley said. “On Monday when we had a training we said to the girls ‘how good is this? Preseason is done’. There’s no better feeling than knowing the hard work, step one’s done. But in terms of the conditioning load, now it’s all about performance and recovery from here on in.”

Riley is no stranger herself to playing at high levels of football, having represented both Adelaide and the Gold Coast Suns in the AFL Women’s. Unlike the elite level though, the Coates Talent League presents a different challenge of constantly changing team lists, providing the great unknown for coaches.

“Having it go the whole year is exciting,” Riley said. “There’s a bit of a buzz in the air. As for how we play, I don’t know, we’ll see won’t we?

“A bit like the Falcons, I think this is how they’re going to play but that’s the pros and cons of the pathway, teams change so much each year so it will be a bit of a surprise either way I think.”

Riley herself has stepped into the head coach role after being involved with the program in an assistant capacity, with 2022 senior coach David Loader refocusing full-time on the boys’ team.

“It’s been awesome so far,” Riley said. “It started pretty abruptly in November. But now feeling pretty settled, got a good routine and we’ve picked our squad and know the players a lot better. It’s pretty exciting to have the whole year together as well now we have Round 1 on the horizon.”

AFLW Academy member Jessica Rentsch headlines the 2023 GWV Rebels list, with the wing set to return for the first time in 286 days since breaking her leg in the Under 17s Futures match last June.

“For ‘Rentschy’ it’s been about getting her fitness back but also her confidence in her body,” Riley said. “We’ve seen over the last few weeks in our match sim and our internal match trial, she’s really hit her straps so she’s right where she needs to be if I’m honest.”

Riley said the teenager will likely play off half-back and roll onto her more familiar wing role as she continues to build up both her fitness and confidence, before moving more on-ball later in the season.

Alongside Rentsch is fellow Vic Country hub member and top-ager Laila Lappin who is tearing up the track coming off a promising season as a bottom-age ruck.

“Laila’s got herself fitter than ever as that tall key position player,” Riley said. “We made that one of her off-season goals to improve her running capacity so she’s doing that, and then obviously adding another string to her bow playing through the ruck and then pinch-hitting forward. I hope to see her play a variety of positions over the next few months.”

Each year the GWV Rebels have a number of over-age players returning to the squad, and one of those is Vic Country representative Molly Walton. Leading by example over the preseason, Walton has been working hard on her fitness which was the main area of improvement for the defender/midfielder.

“She’s gone back and worked on the feedback that some clubs gave her after missing out on the draft,” Riley said. “We’re excited that again being that year older and experienced what she can bring.

“Molly will play through the mid and down back like last year. She’s such a good learner and person as well, so she’ll only continue to grow, that’s for sure.”

Outside the familiar names Riley said a number of others had impressed including small forward/wing Isabella Davies who tested well at the recent preseason testing day, and defenders Olivia Moll and Olivia Brilliant.

“(Moll) won’t play Round 1 though, she’s injured with a foot injury. But she again last year she’s come back she’s strong and plays through the backline,” Riley said. “Liv Brilliant, she’s a half-backer, left footer who will bring lots of run and carry. She’s been training well.”

Riley highlighted others such as bottom-agers and Vic Country Under 16 representatives Brook Ward and Elise Cook, top-age twins Bindi and Tyla Crabtree, and hard-working Lily Jordan as returning players who have gained consistency over the off-season with their training. Millie Lang, a 177cm bottom-age prospect is a fresh face who Riley is excited about for 2023.

With the season less than 24 hours away for the Rebels, Riley said the group was keeping it simple in her first year in charge.

“As a group one of our main focuses is not to worry,” she said. “I know that sounds ridiculous, but we’ve been building as a team to build those relationships so if you make a mistake, it’s okay. Really I’d like to see the resilience of the girls grow, particularly those who might end up being drafted. It’s not all rosy playing top end footy.

“As a group we’re really trying to embrace every part of it, even the girls who are injured. How are they training? Are they back rehab running? As a whole that’s something that our goal is just because it is our first year, it’s create that environment that they want to come back.

“I’d like to look back at the end of the year and think that they’ve become better people, but better footballers and they’ve got a bit of a football brain that would be ideal.”

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