Three NAB League Girls players went further than most after graduating from the competition this year, with Nicola Xenos among a trio of Oakleigh Chargers to appear in Collingwood’s 2019 VFLW premiership team.
18-year-old Xenos, along with Chargers teammates Gemma Lagioia and Alana Porter, played key roles in helping the Magpies defeat the Western Bulldogs by 37 points in the recent Swisse Wellness VFL Women’s ‘Love the Game’ Grand Final.
After an early-season VFLW debut, Xenos returned from representing Vic Metro at national level to break back into Collingwood’s line-up and play in the team’s final six games.
The Kew Comets (Yarra Junior FL) product was among the Magpies’ best players in the Grand Final triumph, showcasing her speed and defensive pressure as a 161cm on-baller.
Xenos’ efforts on the biggest stage in Victorian women’s football provided a timely reminder to AFL Women’s club recruiters of what she’s capable of ahead of the 2019 NAB AFLW Draft on October 22.
“Grand Final day was amazing,” Xenos said at this week’s NAB AFLW Draft Combine, where she recorded the fastest time in the 20m sprint and finished third in the 2km time trial.
“(Collingwood president) Eddie McGuire spoke to us at training on the Thursday, saying we could make history as the first women’s team to win a premiership for the club. I think it was the best opportunity I could have asked for.”
Xenos said breaking into a glory-bound Magpies outfit containing AFLW stars like Brianna Davey, Jaimee Lambert and Chloe Molloy was a challenge.
However, she thinks Lagioia, Porter and herself were able to bring something different to Collingwood’s mix of players from their time developing in Oakleigh’s system.
“I thought as a collective we could bring the footy we’d been playing over a long period of time, as compared to the players that have just come to footy,” Xenos said. “We’ve learned skills and game sense over the years, so I felt like we could bring an element they didn’t have.
“I felt like the skill at Vic Metro was higher than the skill at VFLW level, but there were definitely bigger bodies in the VFLW. I knew I had to step up the intensity, but I love footy’s physical nature and I love the battle, so I didn’t find it too hard.”
Xenos said she instead focused more on absorbing the character traits of her AFLW-listed teammates, with an eye to demonstrating her well-roundedness to recruiters.
Having given up playing Victorian representative basketball in the middle of 2018 to focus solely on football, her own character is evident in a determination to succeed at whichever level she reaches.
“It’s been hard to balance both school and sport, but I knew if I put everything into this year then I could be draftable,” Xenos said.
“At the start of the year, I knew I just wanted to play at the highest level possible – whether that was for Vic Metro or with a VFLW club. Now my dream is to get drafted, but if that falls through then I know I’m still going to play at the highest level I can.”
NAB LEAGUE ‘FAST FIVE’ QUESTIONS
Most influential person on your football at Oakleigh:
“Luke O’Shannessy. He’s been my coach for the three years I played at the Chargers and he really helped me develop as a player.”
Most valuable lesson learned in the NAB League:
“Just to enjoy the footy you play. NAB League standard is very good – don’t get me wrong – but it’s only going to get harder from there. I just tried to enjoy it this season.”
Teammate you’ve most enjoyed sharing the NAB League journey with:
“Gemma Lagioia. We’re very similar people and she’s come right through Oakleigh’s system with me. She’s been that person I can talk to about anything and I know she can relate to the things I’m going through.”
Most difficult NAB League opponent:
“Georgia Patrikios (Calder Cannons). She’s just such a good player, with great skills and agility. She’s very hard to play on and definitely made me work hard.”
Most memorable NAB League moment:
“I’d say this last season, having come from the first year when we didn’t win a game to this year when we won five and just missed out on finals. It was such a great group of girls that I got to share the year with as well.”
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