Sophie Van De Heuvel was able to learn first-hand from one of 2018’s best Swisse Wellness VFL Women’s players while at Williamstown this season.
The 17-year-old forward/midfielder (turning 18 in December) graduated from her second TAC Cup Girls campaign with the GWV Rebels to play five VFLW games this year – including three of the Seagulls’ four victories.
In the process, Van De Heuvel transitioned from a leadership role at the Rebels to one as a protégé of the more experienced players on a youthful Williamstown list.
Prolific Seagulls midfielder and North Melbourne AFLW signing Jess Duffin – the 2018 Lambert-Pearce Medal winner for the VFLW’s best and fairest player – became a role model for the NAB AFL Women’s Draft hopeful.
“It was a massive experience (stepping up to the VFLW),” Van De Heuvel said at the recent AFLW Draft Combine, where she topped the running vertical jump (left foot) test and finished second in the standing vertical jump and 20m sprint tests.
“I learnt a lot, especially from our coach Amy Catterall and players like Jess Duffin and (2018 Western Bulldogs AFLW premiership player) Jenna Bruton. It was a bit nerve-wracking at the start just to be around the really good players, but as I played a few games it was really good.
“I’ve played against Jess in cricket before. She’s a great player in both sports and an awesome person too. I’ve learnt a lot from her throughout the season.”
Like Duffin, Van De Heuvel is attempting to balance playing football with cricket. She says the sports are complementary in how they both require clean hands – “one of my strengths in footy that I’ve obviously gotten from cricket” – and a high level of fitness.
Indeed, fitness was one of Van De Heuvel’s key focus areas in her time at GWV this season. Her hard work later saw her called up to represent Vic Country at the AFLW U18 Championships and subsequently earn selection in both the AFLW U18 All Australian team and TAC Cup Girls Team of the Year.
“There’s a lot of hard work I’ve put into footy,” Van De Heuvel said. “Commitment and hard work definitely has to come in order to get your skills up.
“I think the number-one thing for me this year was my fitness. I was playing in the midfield and rotating into the forward line (at the Rebels), so that was the biggest thing I wanted to work on.
“This time 12 months ago I never would have thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be in the position I am at the moment.”
THE AFLW DRAFT WATCH ‘FAST FIVE’ with Sophie Van De Heuvel
Why should an AFLW club draft you?
“I have some speed about me and love tackling pressure – they are the two main ones.”
What is the funniest or weirdest question you’ve been asked by an AFLW club?
“I’d probably say when they asked for a joke – I’m not the best at jokes. I didn’t come up with one as I don’t know many.”
Who is your football idol?
“Jess Duffin (Williamstown VFLW and North Melbourne AFLW). I’ve learnt a lot from her throughout the season at Williamstown. She’s had some pretty good achievements throughout the year and… she is a really good person.”
Who will be selected with pick no.1 in the 2018 AFLW Draft?
“Nina Morrison (Geelong Falcons and Geelong Cats). She is a great person and definitely deserves it. She is a quality person and has all the skills you would pick.”
Which of your 2018 teammates should also be in draft consideration?
“Georgia Clarke and Lauren Butler (both GWV Rebels). They have put in an immense amount of work throughout the season to get themselves right for the draft.”