Ranges focus within ahead of grand final

UP TO 95 per cent of planning for the Talent League Girls Grand Final will focus around the Ranges themselves according to Eastern coach Ash Close, as his side prepares to knock off Oakleigh Chargers for the second time in a month. The Chargers were missing a number of “high-end talents” due to the Under 17s Futures match, though Close said the preparation was all about the Ranges.

“We respect Oakleigh and we respect the way they’re coached, we respect their players,” he said. “But we’re really keen to make this about us and focus on it being about the best version of us possible. There’s things we will have to address but really 90 per cent of what we’re talking about, even 95 per cent is about us and how we perform to optimum.”

Eastern prides its self on pressure, which is an area that Close said the playing group honed in on prior to the season, and is now reaping the rewards.

“We set ourselves to be the best pressure team in the competition from the start of the preseason,” Close said. “The way we’ve been turning over the ball, forcing turnovers in the last month has really resonated with our scoring. We’re just having that front of mind, we’ve got pressure on the ball, we’re strong in the contest, and when we do have those turnovers, we’re capitalising from those turnovers.”

The Ranges enter the match coming off a 10-goal win over Geelong Falcons in the preliminary final, their eighth straight win since going down to Oakleigh Chargers in June. That day, the Ranges’ trio of AFLW Academy members in Alyssia Pisano, Laura Stone and Jess Vukic were all missing due to the Academy’s clash with the Under 23 All-Stars.

Though Eastern does have the red-hot winning streak, Close said there were always areas to improve, and it was important to remember that the players journeys do not end tomorrow.

“We’ve always had the mindset that we want to keep getting better every game and every opportunity we can,” Close said. “We’ve still got growth in us, even in that prelim. I know we beat Geelong by 60 points but we’re still trying to get better and find the best versions of us. It’s a bit of a journey, you’ve never really finish.

“It will be interesting to see where this part of the journey ends on Saturday. For the girls who go on and follow their AFLW careers or footballing careers, they’re still on a journey and same with the girls who don’t get drafted so we’re just trying to stay really present with what we do and just get better.”

Pisano, Stone and Vukic are three talented players who have had an immense influence on the rest of the group, particularly the bottom-agers.

“They are all three quality players and I think just training with them, the girls who are bottom-agers at the moment get to see how hard they train, know how much detail they put into their craft,” Close said. “I think they’re really important to us in that aspect and they set the standards. They’ve all had pretty good seasons in their own right, so credit to them and the way they’ve handled themselves. It’s definitely useful having them around to set the standards.”

One talented player who will not be out there for the Ranges is ruck Jacinta Hose who tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) for the second time – but the opposite knee – in her first game back in Ranges colours. Despite the obvious disappointment, Close backed her to make a comeback and implored AFLW clubs not to forget about here.

“She’s really in a good mindset around attacking it, she knows what she has to do,” Close said. “Even though I still think clubs would be silly not to develop her and let her develop for 2-3 years.”

The loss of Hose mean a shift in roles around the ground, such as Vukic spending more time in teh ruck, and playing a rotating role with Mackenzie Bourne.

“It was going to be really interesting because we were going to be quite tall,” Close said. “We have Grace Belloni and Georgie Brisbane down in the forwardline as well. We didn’t really like the look of the three talls, so it was going to be really interesting and I think the idea was Jess was going to play a fair bit more forward, but unfortunately it turns out that Jacinta’s season’s done with us and obviously presented Macca (Bourne) with an opportunity and I reckon she’s taken it with both hands.”

As for the season as a whole, Close said the girls had done a “tremendous job” and was pleased with the development that had occurred across the season in the Ranges program.

“They’ve understood what it is to play footy and what’s required, so I think that’s a credit to them and the way they’ve attacked it every training session, every game it’s been awesome to watch,” he said. “It’s been a pretty exciting to season to this point.”

Eastern Ranges lock horns with Oakleigh Chargers at Ikon Park tomorrow from 9:45am to determine the Coates Talent League Girls premier.

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