Former Collingwood and Western Bulldogs star forward Travis Cloke has a big job ahead of him at the Eastern Ranges in 2021.
The four-time club leading goalkicker has been given the responsibility of coaching not just both the NAB League Boys and Girls under 19s teams, but also the under 17s Futures teams.
Cloke is embracing the challenge head on, opening the campaigns of both girls sides with a first round victory.
“Four teams, it’s great,” he told Yarra Valley FM on Wednesday.
“It’s a lot of work, but at the same time, people management is what it comes down to. Everyone’s got their roles and positions, and knows what’s required of them during the week and also on game day.
“I’ve got a supportive family at home, my wife understands that there’s a few late nights during the week and is understanding that sometimes I’ve got to do a couple of things with work. It doesn’t always fit in with the private life, but that’s just what football is.”
The under 19s team put on a domineering defensive performance at home on Saturday afternoon, downing the Western Jets 4.6.30 to 1.3.9.
While the two sides were locked to three goals between them going into the three-quarter time break, the Ranges were able to take advantage of their smooth rebounding work and hit the scoreboard.
Backline duo Mia Busch and Cadhla Schmidli were the driving force in defence. Busch had 16 disposals and a remarkable eight rebound 50s, while Schmidli had 15 disposals and three marks.
“I spoke to them pre game, and I was very aware that the girls have very good game sense,” Cloke said.
“I can’t say that very often for players still learning at this age, I’ve got 15 year-olds up to 19 year-olds, so they’re still learning the game.
“Those two girls read the ball as good as anyone I’ve seen at their age, male or female. Cadhla’s aerial presence and the way she kicks the football is fantastic. Mia’s attack on the football, I’d hate to be playing against her because the way she tackles people, she’s going to leave an imprint.
“For the six girls [in the backline] to stand up the way they did, the offensive play they created, these things I’d only spoken to the girls really minorly about. But they turned it on, and played exceptional football. I was a happy man come Saturday afternoon.”
Another player that caught the new head coach’s eye was 15 year-old forward Alyssia Pisano.
Despite being one of the youngest players to take the field for the under 19s team, Pisano found the ball in her hands six times, laid three tackles and kicked a handy goal to help break the game open for the Ranges.
Cloke believes this is the only the beginning of Pisano’s bright future.
“Wait until she gets up on the wing properly and feels comfortable in the program,” he said.
“She has this amazing left foot that I have not seen on a 15 year-old, male or female, in a very long time. I’m really looking forward to her development this year, but also over the next three or four years.”
A family club at heart
The Ranges pride themselves as a strong family club.
Cloke himself is a product of the Eastern Ranges, making his return to the club that saw him drafted as pick 39 in the 2004 National Draft as a father/son pick to Collingwood.
There’s also a strong connection to the Brown family, with Callum, Tyler and Tarni all following in their father Gavin’s footsteps at the Pies after being drafted from the Ranges.
Carlton AFLW defender Charlotte Wilson has been drawn back to the club she was drafted from in 2018 with family ties of her own.
“I was there on the weekend,” Wilson told Yarra Valley FM.
“My younger sister was playing. She had her first game of footy ever, for the Eastern Ranges. She had a crack. I was down at the field (at Kilsyth Recreation Reserve), really good energy.”
Wilson’s younger sister Chelsea was one of the back six that was praised so highly for their performance on Saturday, with the volleyball convert having four disposals, a mark, a tackle and a rebound 50 in her first game of footy.
Wilson sees her sister’s development on a very similar track to her own.
“She’s still learning the game, she was in defence,” she said.
“That was definitely a good spot for her. My very first season I played in the forward line, and that did not go well, and then I was moved to defence and I learned the game a lot better. I think it’s probably a good spot for her, but she could have a shot in the ruck, she’s very tall.”
Pressed on getting behind the players who’d come through the Ranges program, Cloke is still holding strongly to old allegiances when watching players like Wilson flourish at the Blues.
“I can’t support the Blues, I really can’t I’m sorry. I’m still a Pies man, we beat them last week,” he said with a laugh.
“We’ve got some extremely good footballers at the moment, coming through our program in the eastern suburbs at the Eastern Ranges. It’s nice to see our talent running around in the AFLW at the moment, there’s a lot of them.”
The Ranges were set to play against the Gippsland Power on Saturday the 13th before the announcement of Melbourne’s five-day lockdown, with all NAB League games delayed until the following weekend.
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