By Ant Wingard @AntWingard
At just 17, Bond University ruckman Lauren Bella possesses maturity well beyond her years.
Currently, she’s one of three Queenslanders competing at the NAB AFLW Draft Combine at Marvel Stadium but Bella’s life in the sporting prism to even make it to this point has taken copious amounts of self-perseverance, sacrifices and wisdom.
Bella of course hails from Mackay where she rose to prominence as a dual-sport athlete in both Australian Rules football and netball.
As recently as last year, Bella was admitted into Netball Queensland’s Elite Development Program squad, but it was the former sport which truly captured her sporting appeal.
She began playing football at her local club – the Sarina Demons – after becoming bored just sitting on the sidelines at her brother’s game.
“I’ve basically continued playing since then,” Bella told aflq.com.au.
“I think I decided that AFL was my sport when I got to 13 or 14, that was the start of all the school representative stuff.”
Her prowess in both sports mirrored much of her adolescence and a career in either loomed a genuine possibility, but balancing the two, along with university and life forced her hand into focusing just one.
Bella’s love of netball never waned and still hasn’t to this day, however the opportunities in football seemed larger and football had played an integral part of her life for longer.
“I never wanted to ditch netball. Even now I wish I was still playing. It kind of just made sense not to burn myself trying to balance the two.”
“I’ll stick with AFL for the moment, but there’s nothing to say I won’t go back to netball in a few years.”
It was in Mackay where her football journey reached a pinnacle over the past few years but after seeing an advertisement for the Nick Riewoldt scholarship for a university some 1000 kilometres away, a whole new world of possibilities came to the fray.
An application was sent south, but it took until the second round of offers for her to be accepted and soon, Bella – still not of voting age – packed her bags and headed to the Gold Coast.
Despite its enormity, the move was almost seamless for Bella, who noted her excitement far outweighed the nerves of a fresh start away from home.
“I’ve always wanted to move down south because everything I’ve ever needed has been down there. It all happened very quickly within the space of about two months.”
Bond University now means home for Bella, who dorms on the campus grounds.
Amid a busy 2018 schedule which included appearances for Queensland at the NAB AFLW Under 18 Championships and the Gold Coast SUNS in the Winter Series, Bella starred for the Bullsharks in their maiden QWAFL season.
Her performances yielded an inclusions in the QWAFL Team of the Year which effectively earmarked her as the second-best ruckman in the competition despite playing just eight games.
That accolade came after being named the starting ruckman in the AFLW Under 18 All Australian team.
It’s been a demanding year for the 188cm Bella, who admitted it has been difficult at stages, especially being so far away from her family and forced to live independently at just 17.
“It’s been hard not having them here with me being 17 and living independently on my own while they’re still back up in North Queensland. It has been difficult,” she said.
“Whenever I have a problem, I can always count on them for support but it’s definitely a struggle trying to balance everything.”
Bella’s dominant season across all levels of football this year have had her earmarked as one of the brightest talents coming through the Queensland talent ranks and a spot on the Brisbane Lions AFLW list looms imminent – a deserved reward for her genuine resilience.
Already, she has shone at the draft combine, producing top five finishes in both the left and right foot vertical jump and top ten finished in the 20m sprint and the 2 kilometre time trial.
Her footballing journey is reaching some kind of crescendo over the coming weeks as the draft draws near and a new chapter begins, but for Bella, the sport remains simply an enjoyable factor of her busy, busy life.
“I’m still a growing girl and have a lot to learn, so my while thing is just to completely soak up the experience while I can. I still have a lot to learn so hopefully, I’ll improve with my footy and see how long I can last.”
Image: Adam Trafford/AFL Media