By Kath Gannaway
Lauren Tesoriero knew she wanted to play football from the time she was just a kid … she just had to wait a while!
She grew up at the Mount Evelyn Football Netball Club as part of the sports-mad Tesoriero family, making a short-lived football debut in the Under 10s.
“I always wanted to play but wasn’t allowed to,” she told the Mail after making history as part of the Collingwood team in the inaugural AFL Women’s League match at Princess Park on Friday, 3 February.
“Someone convinced my parents to let me play two games in the juniors and they were the only ones they won,” she said.
They were also the only games she played until well into her teens.
After establishing herself as a champion at netball and basketball, Lauren, now 29, was recruited at 18 to join the Yarra Valley Cougars women’s football team.
“I really don’t have any words to describe the experience,” she said when asked about playing before a crowd of 24,500 people in the history-making game.
The game marked the beginning of the 28-match AFLW competition and it was set up by the AFL as a ground-breaker, building on the traditional rivalry of Collingwood and Carlton.
The timing of her return to football last year after leaving the Cougars to concentrate on her netball couldn’t have been better.
“I was drawn to football, but it was hard because I thought the program at that time was not at an elite level and I was looking to play the best sport I could.
“I went back to have a kick with friends last season and this opportunity came up,” she explained.
The skills transfer from round-ball sports is evident in her agility and self-awareness as a midfielder around the ground.
“I think just having the netball background has made for better agility and core strength,” she said.
“Around the contest I’m able to read the ball off people’s hands and intercept, which is a skill that comes from basketball as well.”
While the final siren saw Collingwood go down to Carlton by 35 points, a huge disappointment for the Magpies, Lauren said that moment of realisation that the game had had drawn a capacity crowd, and what that meant, was surreal.
“It (the loss) was hard, out on the ground at that moment it was really disappointing, but just looking around you couldn’t not be happy with what we’ve done for girls in the future to have a career, and we started that,” Lauren said.
Asked about the place of AFL women as role-models for younger generations, Lauren said they realised they were lucky to have the opportunity because there was no pathway for girls in football for so long.
“I have young nieces who are playing football and it’s one of the reasons I thought I would give it a crack,” she said.
“They want to have something to aspire to.
“I know a lot of the young girls from Mount Evelyn watching that game on Friday would be wanting to get out and have a kick the next day,” she said.
It’s early days still for the women making that ground-breaking leap.
Like their male counterparts in the early days of Australian Rules, it’s part of a bigger and busier life.
Lauren juggles her work in horticulture, and over the past few years coaching netball in Yea and Mansfield, with the intense training and match schedule as an elite footballer.
“The juggling is hard. You do it because you love it,” she said adding that she would love coaching to be part of her own future career path.