QWAFL GF caps off Eagle’s top year

By Ellie Grounds

 When the Zillmere Eagles run on to the field at Yeronga tomorrow afternoon for the QWAFL Grand Final, perhaps nobody will be more excited than player Mikayla Anderson.

Zillmere take on reigning 2013 premiership team Coorparoo in what Mikayla hopes will be the icing on the cake of a season full of improvements and achievements.

“I am so pumped. I’ve never wanted anything more than to play in the grand final, but just to win it because we have worked so hard and this year has been so uplifting,” she said.

“I think it would be the cherry on top to go back with that medal and that cup.”

But Mikayla’s pathway to success hasn’t been so much a walk in the park as a long road of unwavering determination.

Coach Jacob Simmons-Bliss said her perseverance and dedication to constantly progressing her skills is unlike anything he has seen before.

“I’ve seen a fair few players through my career that have been dedicated, but they don’t really come as hard and as fast as Miki does,” he said.

“Every single night she is relentless on what she wants to improve on. She does not waiver. Her desire is up there with the best.”

And her hard work has undoubtedly paid off.

“Miki started out as one of our middle-tier players, and she was one of the players when I came in this season that really took a lot of my time in terms of coaching in the pre-season,” Simmons-Bliss said.

“She developed her skill base a lot more, her footy smarts, to become a well-rounded player.

“She has gone from a middle-tier to an elite footballer, and has actually risen to vice-captain this year.”

The improvements she made to her rucking technique, kicking and vertical leap made such an impression that, for the first time, Mikayla was picked for the Queensland representative team, a goal she says she has had in her sights for a while now.

“I went in to the season last year with an aim to maybe try out for States in the next years [to come],” she said.

After serious improvements to her kicking and overall football skills, she was one of around 10 Eagles player nominated by Simmons-Bliss to go away to the carnival.

“I was absolutely stoked and shocked almost,” Anderson said.

“Playing against some of those All Stars – the Suns and the Lions – I was so honoured to be a part of that, the top Queensland footy players in that sort of competition.

“Even though they were still cutting [the squad] down, to hear my name called out – I was excited. My smile lasted for a couple of days, actually.”

Although extremely proud of herself for making the cut, Mikayla said what she took most out of the experience was an overwhelming increase in confidence.

“Being a part of that high performance training gave me lots of confidence in knowing my ability,” she said.

“I think if there is opportunity for us [women] to keep getting high profile training, that will boost our confidence in all of us, not just myself. Just that confidence boost and being able to work on that this year has really excited me to up the ante for this year.”

Increasing the confidence of female AFL players on and off the field is something Mikayla holds close to her heart.

Along with sister Ally, she was assistant coach of the Queensland female KickStart team.

The competition, which encourages healthy lifestyle choices among Indigenous Under 18 players, is the perfect place for Mikayla to share her experience with impressionable young girls, according to her coach.

“It’s absolutely brilliant for her to be involved in that program – coaching at a national level,” Simmons-Bliss said.

“Being an Indigenous girl herself she is able to relate to the team. It’s a good link for the girls in that team to have a role model who is on the right path.”

While obviously focussed on improving athletic ability, Mikayla said it was the emotionally supportive side of the program she was really interested in.

“I knew that maybe my experience in regards to AFL wasn’t where I would be able to be most beneficial to these girls,” she said.

“I came in thinking, ‘This is my experience’, and I think that I am quite supportive. I have to tell these kids, yes, they can do it. They need to believe it. No one else will if you don’t. That’s the exact same as where I’ve been. I’ve had to work on it, and I’m still working on it

Going into the QWAFL final tomorro, Mikayla knows exactly what she needs to do to lead her team to victory.

“I’m going to make sure I have solid hands,” she said.

“That’s something I’ve specifically worked on – my marking. Without sounding over the top, I think I’ve got a nice vertical leap and actually marking the ball would be something I’ll try to do.

“If I’m not in the actual contest I’m shepherding or doing something to help us win that ball – be that next kick option and find that space.”

And if the words of her coach, Jacob, are anything to go by, she will have absolutely no trouble in doing that.

“I would like to see her fulfil the role she has been fulfilling all year,” Simmons-Bliss said.

“She’s one of the stand out improvers and performers of the year. I don’t think anyone is as pumped as she is. She is 100% ready to go.”

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