Contributed by: Troy Thompson
Since the early days of the USAFL, American players have travelled to Australia to bathe in the full experience of being at an Aussie rules football club in Australia. Most come to play the game at the highest level they can, some are happy just to play a game anywhere, while others will consult a USAFL team mate from Australia to hook them up with their old club.
Probably the most successful of those players (on a long term playing basis at state level) who came to Australia on their own initiative is Alex Aurrichio. Originally Aurrichio attended an AFL combine in LA before playing footy with the New York Magpies. He then came to Australia, worked around a number of clubs before ending up at Carlton’s VFL affiliate the Northern Blues where he played multiple seasons before moving to the SANFL and NEAFL leagues.
This year again players such as Max DePina currently at Uni Blacks and Rick Shaibani at Caroline Springs have continued this journey. But it is the solid number of US women coming to Australia all with dreams of making it to the AFLW competition that is most exciting. Katie Klatt has a solid couple of years at Melbourne University as a defender in 2017 and 2018 and should take plenty of credit for giving confidence to those that are now on Australian shores. Klatt has now returned to America, she as other internationals have found, that getting a visa to work and play in Australia for long periods can be a difficult task.
This year already there are four Americans on VFLW lists. The VFLW is the Victorian state league football at the level below AFLW, and has many of the AFLW competition’s players taking part most weeks. This competition gives a great form guide for AFLW list managers to assess the quality of VFLW players in a side by side comparison with the AFLW players they come up against.
Internationals in the VFLW can have a small advantage when it comes to getting a game too. The competition has a 23rd player each week. This is a development initiative that is given to a rookie, usually out of the U18 competition. But international players who haven’t played previous seasons of Aussie rules football in Australian competitions are also able to fill this position.
After playing footy for Seattle in the USAFL April Lewis applied in 2018 to the CrossCoders program and came to Australia to be put in front of AFLW teams along with an international group (of mostly Irish) of female athletes. Three Irish player were taken from that group directly to AFLW clubs and all played plenty of match time in the 2019 season. April returned to the US but set her sights on playing in the 2019 VFLW season in Melbourne. She did this by returning to Australia late in 2018 to try out at various talent ID days and private testing with clubs.
She received a number of offers, but Essendon was the club she felt would give her the best chance. When Essendon’s list was announced just before Round 1 Lewis was confirmed as the first American to be on the club’s AFLW list. She joined Canadian Kendra Heil at the club who was AFLW listed with Collingwood in 2017 but never played due to a knee injury. Valerie Moreau also played with the club in 2018 and is currently out with a torn ACL so the club has experienced having internationals on their list previously.
Of course, just being on a VFLW list is only the beginning and getting a game in the competition is no guarantee. Lewis was not selected last weekend for Essendon and so played with her nominated community club West Brunswick who play in the Premier women’s competition of the VAFA. Lewis was not lone international in that team, playing alongside French player (and fellow CrossCoder) Coline Duquet and German national Denise Heckmann. Lewis played at full forward and centre half forward in the team’s win over Fitzroy.
Jess Blecher was the first US player to hit the ground running in Round 1 of the VFLW two week’s ago with Collingwood. After coming to Australia from Portland two years ago and playing in the NTFL and with Keilor in the Northern Football Netball League last season she trialled and was selected to be on Collingwood’s VFLW list, Blecher again played in the NTFL this past season.
In Round 1 she lined up against another of the the CrossCoders graduates Frankie Hocking a British national who she last played against in their final match of the 2017 International Cup where they both represented their nations. Also, on the Southern Saints team was another international in Clara Fitzpatrick who was part of the championship winning Irish team at IC17. Fitzpatrick is no newcomer to VFLW footy having played in the ruck with Diamond Creek in 2017 and Melbourne Uni in 2018. The Saints won that match by 35 points.
Erin McLaughlin (pictured right) is an American from Minnesota. In fact, she comes from around the same area as the legendary Katt Hogg, one of the founders of USAFL women’s footy. But Erin did not find footy until she was in Australia.
She played footy for West Brunswick in the VAFA in 2017 and 2018. In 2018 she was on the Western Bulldogs list and played in Round 1 in the VFLW competition. Late in 2018 she trialled at the Darebin Falcons alongside April Lewis and accepted an invitation to come to the club, being officially listed just before Round 1.
McLaughlin actually played one quarter against the US Liberty team that played against West Brunswick in 2017 when she saw the American team in action and just wanted to get out there and be amongst it.
The Darebin Falcons went down to Richmond by 33 points in their Round 1 VFLW match last Saturday but McLaughlin has a good game with 20 hit-outs in the ruck and kicking a goal along with seven disposals and four tackles.
The fourth on the list of Americans on VFLW lists this year is Katie Stone. She is 6’2” ruck listed by Carlton. We don’t know a lot about Katie but believe she may have started footy at Oxford University (or was it Tasmaniaω). We do know that she played last season with the North London Lions and it is another huge vindication of the quality of the AFL London competition that has seen players such as AFLW players Kate Shierlaw and Lauren Spark and VFLW Collingwood player Jess Edwards.
We understand that Katie was identified as a talent by Carlton while taking part in the Women’s AFL Academy Program. Carlton had a bye in Round 1 so we will be watching to see if Katie is selected in Round 2 or plays with her listed community club Fitzroy. Katie has also come to the attention of the USAFL Freedom coaching panel as she has been named in their training squad for the 2020 International Cup.
But wait, there’s more. In the news that past week have been two more Americans Sara Edwards-Rohner and Dani Marshall. Rohner was an elite rugby union player in the US and crossed over to Aussie rules seven years ago to play for the Denver Bulldogs. Marshall played last year for the first time with the Arizona Hawks.
They are both here to push their claims for an AFLW list spot. Through the USAFL’s network of contacts the two players are trialling with an number of clubs including the Western Bulldogs, St Kilda and Collingwood. Marshall has been playing with Aberfeldie in the Essendon Districts Football League while Edwards-Rohner is hoping to be signed to an AFLW contract before she stays in Australia and prepares for that season.
And in late breaking news we believe Dani will also be playing in the VFLW competition this Saturday with the Western Bulldogs against Williamstown after trialling at the club this week.
You an hear the interview of Dani and Sara with Gerard Whately on SEN this week here -
And we know there's more to come, currently packing their bags to head down to trial potentially with the CrossCoders program in it's second year and individually to trial with club's ahead of the rookie listings and AFLW draft later in the year.
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