Kiera Mueller runs out ahead of Sturt's Indigenous Round match (Picture: Sturt FC/Facebook, Design by Madeline Irwin)

Sturt finished seventh on the SANFLW ladder at the end of the 2021 season, which has made their ascent up the SANFLW ladder this season all the more eye-catching.

The Inner Sanctum spoke exclusively to young Sturt Football Club leader and half-back Kiera Mueller about how the team have managed their unexpected rise up the SANFLW ladder with finals within reach for the first time in their history.

Finals are the Ultimate Goal

The Double Blues have had a blistering start to the season winning their first five games . With four games to be played for the rest of this season with only two losses on the board, they seem set to at least shape if not make finals.

Sturt’s history in the SANFL Women’s competition has been scratchy to say the least. They entered the competition in 2018 where they finished second last in a six team competition. Since then, they have languished in sixth for every year prior to last season where they finished in seventh position on the ladder.

They had also only won a collective 10 wins in all seasons prior to 2022, this was out of 32 games played over this time, which is why the form from the club so far has long-time Sturt supporters excited about seeing their women in finals contention. Having been in and around the club for the last few years, star young defender, Kiera Mueller is best placed to explain their meteoric rise.

“It has been a great feeling seeing all the hard work that the team and coaches have put in finally paying off. Although it has taken a few years, we always knew that our brand of footy was good enough to match any team.”

“We came into the 2022 season with the goal of making finals and not accepting anything less of that.”

“I think the biggest difference this year for us was having belief and confidence in ourselves. This group of girls have gelled together extremely well and everyone brings something to the table.”

It is apparent to anyone that has watched the Double Blues play that they play with confidence, heart and spirit, this has come through as the team has settled and played the football they want to play.

AFLW Experience

One of the most impressive aspects has been the development of the young group along with the talent of former AFLW listed players Georgia Bevan as well as current AFLW players, Angela Foley, Jasmyn Hewett and Zoe Prowse.

“Having AFLW experience has been awesome for us. Georgia Bevan and Zoe Prowse have been key players in our team for a couple years now, and it has really allowed the girls to match the energy they bring to gameday.” Mueller explains.

“Jasmyn Hewett and Ange Foley bring so much knowledge and experience to the team that they are able to share and pass down to us. They all bring their own strengths across the ground that impacts the team in a really positive way.”

Having played 16 AFLW games for the Gold Coast Suns and more famously the Adelaide Crows, Georgia Bevan has been a natural leader coming into the young team. She was co-captain of the team in 2019 with Caitlyn Swanson and 2020 alongside Maya Rigter.

Development and improvement across all lines

When looking at the Double Blues and their development, all three lines across the team have been the key to the success of this team. The forwards have kicked big scores consistently through the season kicking 50 points or more in four games.

“The forwards this year have been unstoppable at times. There is a spark with the mix of girls down there who are all working really well together.” Mueller continues.

“The ability to convert inside 50’s to goals is something the forwards have been working on since preseason, and it’s been awesome to see it come to life.”

Alysha Healy and Abbey Rigter have been the main targets down forward, both have kicked 10 goals from the eight games so far which is the fifth most in the league.

With 30 games under her belt, at only 22 years old, Healy is only growing as a forward with experience and decent midfield supply. She has grown immensely kicking only five goals in the past 22 games she had played before 2022.

17 year old Rigter, has burst onto the scene at the Double Blues this season. The younger sister of captain Maya, she averages 1.3 goals a game in her first season with a scoring accuracy of 63%.

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The midfield has been an area where there has been a massive difference for the Double Blues, as they have been giving the forwards chances at goal and helping the defenders clear the ball out of the defensive 50.

“Isobel Kuiper, Alisha Gepp and Ellie Lynch have started this year in cracking form. Their work in the midfield has been outstanding.”

“The delivery the forwards receive from them has been making it easier to get quicker and easier goals. The mids work rate to work up the ground, and then get back to help the defenders has also been very noticeable.”

Isobel Kuiper and Ellen Lynch have been prime ball winning midfielders for Sturt, featuring in the top five clearance winners in the competition. Lynch also features with Georgia Swan and Elsie Dawes in the top 10 of the competition for inside 50 entries.

“As well as the forwards and mids being in great form, the defenders have also been pulling their weight in the team.”

“The defenders have been strong across the year with having the lowest score against them in the competition. There is lots of depth back there with girls firing ready to go win the footy.”

Sturt Football Club young gun Kiera Mueller won the 2021 emerging talent award for the SANFLW program (Picture: Sturt FC/Facebook)

Mueller herself has had a fantastic season. Playing seven games, she has collected 25 rebound 50s which places her in the top 10 in the competition. She also averages 15.6 disposals with a disposal efficiency of 87%.

Maya Rigter’s leadership

Having been out due to a persistent foot injury in 2021, captain Maya Rigter is back at the helm and better than ever this year. Closing in on 50 SANFLW games, Rigter is the unassuming leader, she doesn’t lead the stats sheet, she just plays her role down back and keeps the opposition forwards quiet.

Mueller notes that her presence has been great in helping to establish good working habits and has inspired her team.

“Maya’s leadership has always been something that has stood out to me. She is such a natural leader who leads by example and is there for everyone.”

“Being a part of the leadership group has allowed me to see how much work and time she puts into the team behind closed doors. She has a great partner in Kate Harris who really stepped up last year when Maya was injured.”

“It has been a difficult journey for Maya with her ongoing foot injury, but watching her push through that and get back to where she is has been really admirable. Even when she was injured, she was still setting all the standards off field.”

Becoming a leader

Being selected in the leadership group at the age that Mueller has, has helped her to feel recognised and helped her to take ownership of what she can do for her club. It has helped her to develop her voice and learn from the leaders within the club.

“I think my leadership has been recognised this year by the way I am able to lead by example, on and off the field. I have really enjoyed taking on the new role and being able to expand my knowledge and understanding of what makes a good leader.”

“My leadership style is at a personal level as I like to make the girls feel comfortable within the team. I really enjoy getting around the girls and chatting to them about footy as well as life, and being vulnerable.

“I think this is how our team has connected and bonded really well this year.”

Mueller says that although the 2021 season was challenging, it presented great offseason opportunities. Getting fitter in the gym and really focusing on what could make her a better football player helped her to come back ready to attack the season.

“After the 2021 season, that was the first time I have had an opportunity to have time off. This time off, allowed me to get in the gym and focus on elements that I needed to improve on.”

“I also really enjoyed running in the off season which helping me come back the fittest I’ve ever been. I had set goals in my mind that I wanted to accomplish in the 2022 season, so this kept me accountable and on track in the off season.”

She hit the ground running this year, claiming the third best player on ground award for the Sturt Women’s team in Round 1. It was in the rousing 30 point victory against Woodville West Torrens that Mueller had 16 disposals, seven marks and three tackles.

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