AFLW season seven has been a dour one for the St Kilda Football Club. After showing promise early in the season, the group looked on track to turn around its poor fortunes in 2022.
But six losses and many deflating injuries later, the club was back to the all too familiar confines of the bottom of the ladder.
From those dark depths came a ray of light on Sunday, as the Saints held off the Power to snap their ever-growing losing streak, and jump suddenly up to 11th.
The position may give the wrong impression of the assessment of the year on paper, but it may also defy the steps the club has taken with its women’s program.
It was a day that showed cause for celebration. It was the side’s first home win in 232 days, and there were contributors who stood out across the ground.
After having her breakout game in Round 6, Hannah Stuart demonstrated she was no flash in the pan. The mature-age recruit had a day to remember with 15 disposals, four tackles and a goal.
After a slow start in her return to football, Georgia Patrikios is starting to catch fire. She was St Kilda’s leading disposal-getter, finishing with 19 touches, three inside 50s, and three rebound 50s.
Nicola Xenos too was influential in the middle when she rotated through, after starting her career as a pressure forward. Her stat-line included 13 disposals, 13 tackles, and four clearances.
Up-and-comers like Tarni White, Simone Nalder and Darcy Guttridge all showed the potential they’ve demonstrated in a game which suggests they’re on the right track.
Speaking post-game, coach Nick Dal Santo emphasised what they’re focusing on.
“There’s moments where you feel like you’ve got some control in a game, and there’s a lot of moments where it’s up to the players to do the best they can possibly do,” he said.
“We’re on a journey, we’re a young group that’s evolving and growing week-to-week.
“I was really pleased with some individuals today that I thought made some huge steps forward. Even in that last five minutes… they just found a way.
“It’s been a tough month. We’ve had some close losses… but I was really proud of our group’s resolve today.”
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With the departure of a number of experienced heads pre-season including Tilly Lucas-Rodd and Rhi Watt, the Saints were in a strange position at their top end.
What it has allowed is other players to step up and fill that void.
Captain Hannah Priest was excellent again on Sunday, racking up 15 disposals, six tackles and five clearances. She was required both up the ground and behind the ball, and performed accordingly.
Bianca Jakobsson has been the aerial warrior alongside her, second only to her skipper for intercept possessions at the club.
Nicola Stevens has influenced the forward group as well, giving her fellow goalkickers in Jess Matin and Kate Shierlaw better looks at scoring opportunities.
It has led Shierlaw to a career-high goalkicking season, ranked fourth in the league with 12 majors.
Sunday saw a frustrating match-up for her though, clearly on edge at the constant attention she was being given by young Power defender Alex Ballard.
While the aggression boiled to the surface at times, she still managed a successful outing which included 13 disposals, six marks, two inside 50s and a goal.
“Some of our ball movement at time has not given Kate the opportunities we would like and she would like,” Dal Santo explained.
“You look at our year as a whole and we had more opportunities in the first couple of games. You live and die by the midfielders and half-backs with that ball movement and delivery.
“Today she probably had two or three more opportunities to pick up a ground ball and kick a goal. I couldn’t ask much more of her.”
After a strong start in this match, generating nine inside 50s, it’s clear there are still a number of areas where the Saints have big steps to make.
They kicked 2.7 to half time, and didn’t manage a single goal in the final term. They also allowed the Power three goals straight in the second to their one behind, comprehensively smashed in contest.
The Saints will have their last chance to impress in season seven in their Round 10 match-up with the Crows, also at RSEA Park.
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