Melbourne Demons midfielder Eliza West. (Picture: AFL; Design: Will Cuckson)

Converting from basketball to Aussie Rules football in 2021, Eliza West has been a great addition to the Melbourne Demons AFLW team for the last two seasons. Playing amongst the star-studded Melbourne midfielders she has been a revelation, with room for improvement as her career progresses.

Playing a number of different sports growing up, West’s constant love was basketball, which she played from the age of six or seven years old. She played some touch football alongside it for most of her sporting life up until recently with netball briefly in the mix, but never the game of Aussie rules.

Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, West details her journey from playing basketball in the United States to the AFLW.

Become one of the competition’s brightest young talents, she reflected on what drew her to the league in the first place. As is the case with many young Australians, West was drawn to the game by watching her brothers play before her.

“It’s still such early days for AFLW and I think seeing the improvements that have been made within the AFLW game but also the improvement over the years has been great. Seeing that continual growth, it is really contagious and you want to be a part of it,” West said.

“I grew up watching my brothers play football and I loved the game always and grew up always watching it, but I never thought it was a game for me.

“[When I was] then being presented with the opportunity, it really excited me. Coming from basketball, I think it’s a really nice cross-over. Basketball is all footwork and hand skills, everything like dribbling with both hands, shooting, lay-ups and everything crosses over really well in that fine motor movement.

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Playing basketball for Utah

Growing up, West balanced playing touch football, basketball and netball, with the former two taking precedence. Her career took off in basketball, which took her over to the United States to play in the US college system.

Up until 2020, West played for Utah State University. Playing 93 matches in three seasons, she broke the record for career assists with in her time there.

West explains how she got in touch with Melbourne after three seasons playing for Utah.

“I dropped netball [eventually] and then all the way up until I went to college in America for basketball in 2016 where I played touch football and basketball,” West explained.

“Once I returned in 2020, I was going to go back to playing touch but then Todd [Patterson] reached out from Melbourne to see whether I’d be into giving footy a go, and I was like ‘yep’, and I never looked back since.”

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West joined the Casey Demons in the VFLW for the 2021 season, where she played 13 matches. She averaged 22.3 disposals and five tackles while kicking seven goals across her debut season.

Her season was eye-catching to say the least, as she ranked first in the competition for contested possessions, second for clearances and fourth for total disposals.

In her first year playing in the VFLW, West was awarded Casey’s Best and Fairest award, along with the VFLW Debbie Lee Rising Star Award. This season alone warranted her elevation to the AFLW list in June that year, ahead of season six.

West describes what it was like having such an impressive debut in the VFLW program, and how she learned to become the footballer she is today.

“I honestly had no idea coming into it, I just listened to the coach,” she explained.

“Being in the midfield, we’ve just got to win the ball, but you have the first opportunity to do that go ahead and do that.

“I just thought of every game as a learning experience for me. but I love to compete, so I just thought if I continually just do my best hopefully I’ll just get better and the team will win.

“Coming out of that season and winning those awards, it was pretty special because… going into the season, I wasn’t sure what to expect with it. I did put a lot of work into football, so it was really nice to see that pay off.”

Areas for improvement

When starting her journey to become an AFLW player, West details the amount of work that she undertook to make the shift possible.

Playing basketball meant her ball skills were reasonable, but her kicking was an area for improvement.

“There is a whole lot of practice involved and extra hours [involved]. Throughout basketball, it’s such a big thing in basketball to put in the hard work,” she said.

“You’ll put more hours in the gym, more hours putting shots up, it’s just repetition, and it’s just that exact mindset is one I’ve kind of just brought into footy.

“I need more hours and more reps of kicking the ball, that’s the only way it’s going to get better. It’s not going to get better if I dream about and the next day I’m going to be able to kick.

[I just realised] I’m going to have to put the work in, so being around those girls from early days was really motivating because I didn’t want to be the one that couldn’t kick.”

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So far in season seven, West has not taken a backwards step in terms of her form, currently averaging 18 disposals, 1.4 marks and 5.8 tackles from her eight games. This is in contrast with her average of 12.8 disposals, 1.3 marks and 4.3 tackles from her 12 games last season.

When speaking about her short break between the grand final appearance in season six and the pre-season of season seven, West sheds some light on her preparation for her second season in the league, which included one week without training.

“I actually went back to basketball just to keep my legs ticking over, so I played at Knox [Raiders, in the NBL1]. Alongside of that, I was down at Casey twice a week and was able to play a few games of VFLW,” West explained.

“I was pretty much down there just kicking, because that’s the main thing… [just] getting my hands on the ball as much as I could. I was down there with the coach Peter Mercoulia, and we just honed in on everything I needed to work on throughout the six weeks until it was time for pre-season.

“By the time it came around, I was pretty confident in myself and the improvements I’d made, and so it set me up really well going into pre-season.

“Going into last season, I felt like it may have held me back a bit, but this pre-season I’ve really felt I could really prove myself now and make really big contributions to this team from the work I’d put in.”

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