Father-daughter picks, sisters reuniting and becoming rivals, and best friends joining each other at clubs – the AFLW draft has produced plenty of feel-good stories.
One of the more little-known feel-good stories is Emily Bennett and Parris Laurie – a former high school student reuniting with her school football academy coach at the West Coast Eagles.
A teacher by day and a footballer by night, Laurie was only drafted three years ago. It was also around then she started her position at Mater Dei College as an Australian rules football specialist, focusing on the women’s program of the school’s AFL Academy.
In April, Bennett revealed the role the West Coast ruck had in shaping her as a player, including the lengths she went to to help her achieve her goals as she navigated the uncertain waters of forging an AFLW career.
“Having Ms. Laurie at school made the idea of AFLW and AFLW players less terrifying and something in my grasp,” Bennett told The Inner Sanctum.
A few weeks ago, that idea became real. The West Coast Eagles selected Bennett with pick 47 in the 2021 NAB AFLW Draft.
Just days after Bennett earned her wings, Laurie was given the right to reply to her new teammate’s comments.
“I’m really glad I can be that person and was that person for her,” Laurie told The Inner Sanctum.
“It’s sort of like a subconscious thing happens but [being a role model is] definitely the goal.
“I think it’s something that drives me in AFLW and elite sport for women, to make sure we’re helping the young girls that come through to make it as limitless as possible. I’m really stoked I can do that for [Emily] and hopefully for other girls in the Academy as well.
“She’s always had the potential and I’m really glad I could make it more of a realistic time for her, and less of a dream more of a goal.”
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It all began in 2019 when Bennett was in year 11. ‘Ms. Laurie’ taught and coached her in the senior women’s team, which the AFLW draftee captained.
West Coast’s ruck is “really excited” about the prospect of sharing the field with her former student heading into 2022 and beyond, despite belonging to two different lines.
“[Emily] is a fantastic student and I loved coaching and teaching her when she was at Mater Dei,” Laurie said.
“I think she’s going to thrive in the elite environment and her work rate will bring her along in leaps and bounds.
“I’m stoked to have her a part of the team. We spoke about it in the past, and I had always hoped she would come to the blue and gold, so I’m really excited.”
Emily Bennett is the first Mater Dei Football Academy product to be drafted into either the AFL or AFLW since it started in 2018. It’s no surprise, given Laurie had flagged her as an AFLW prospect since they met.
“Ever since meeting [Emily]… I’ve seen the potential in her and her work rate, skill level, ability to read the game, and her attack on the footy,” she said.
“She’s always been at the top end and she’s coming through at a really tough time where the draft is really strong and she’s coming up against some really good players.
“She’s worked really hard to prove herself and get herself right and her body right and I think it was just a matter of hoping the Eagles or Freo had a spot on their list that suited her playing style and her position.
“Luckily enough, we really needed a player like her at the Eagles, so we’re really excited to have her.”
The Mater Dei Football Academy
Bennett made her name as a hard-working rebounding defender with clean hands and a beautiful kick. These skills and strengths of hers should take the West Coast backline to new heights, and further the depth of talent on their list.
In addition, her background in numerous representative sports teams and being a part of the Mater Dei Hawks Football Academy should serve her well heading into elite sport.
Bennett told The Inner Sanctum earlier this year she had been part of the Mater Dei Hawks Football Academy since year nine, but first became involved in Aussie rules at school in year eight.
The Academy provides talented prospects with footballing education through Specialised Physical Education classes, through both theoretical and practical lessons. Students develop footballing ability, skills and game awareness, and tactics.
In addition, the school has a relationship with West Coast, Fremantle, and local WAFL club, West Perth, who deliver sessions on leadership, footballing, and coaching to the students.
Umpiring is also touched on as the school aims to provide a complete, multidisciplinary footballing education.
Even earning a place in the program mirrors the drafting process – both including skills and fitness testing, interviewing, and character evaluation.
If a student excelled in maths, then the teacher would place them in an extension class. This principle is no different from Parris Laurie and Emily Bennett’s football.
According to Laurie, her new teammate was always willing to go beyond what the Academy provided to better herself as a footballer, and she was there to provide her with support.
“We’d do extra sessions in the mornings before school, and if she ever wanted to do extra running I was happy to be there for her to do that as well. She was always keen to get the most out of herself in every session,” Laurie said.
“Also just her leadership as well, she led the group and always wanted to work on that part of her game as well, not just her skill side of things.”
Becoming a Claremont footballer
A crucial part of making it to the top level is stringing together solid, consistent performances at state league level, which Bennett needed to do.
She initially started at West Perth in the Rogers Cup (the women’s equivalent to colts/futures) side, but there was no league team for her to play in.
Laurie acted both as a “support system” and a “soundboard” for Bennett when she had to make decisions about which level of WAFLW she played and which club she decided to play at.
She put forward Claremont as an option, acting as a liaison of sorts between the two parties.
“I knew [Emily] had the ability to play league and that’s the path you need to go down if you want to get drafted. I said to her… I would be happy to be there for her to come down [to Claremont] and try it out,” Laurie said.
“I spoke with the coach and told her about [Emily] and that I thought she would be really great for our team.
“Her year just was superb and she was fantastic for the club, for the team, and the backline.”
Coming off a brilliant season that put her name on the map, there’s plenty to be excited about as she enters the AFLW.
“I think Em’s going to be great,” Laurie said.
“She’s got the work rate and she’s an extremely humble young woman, so I think she will really thrive in the environment and really enjoy herself there.
“She’ll be there for many years to come. Em’s gonna be a really solid player and I can’t wait to see what she can achieve at West Coast.”
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