By Sarah Beagley
In an exciting new chapter in Williamstown’s female football development pathway, three CYMS ‘Seagals’ have signed with the Williamstown VFLW for the upcoming 2023 season.
After a fantastic 2022 season at CYs – Zoe Day, Sarah Thomas and Alessia Acquaro were each invited to Downer Oval to first join in on some off-season trainings with the Williamstown VFLW squad.
“The ball started rolling as Penny Cula-Reid (last year’s VFLW Head Coach) came down to play at CYs towards the end of the season and put in my head that I could come down to some VFLW trainings,” CYMS womens’ captain Zoe explains. “We also had a couple of our girls play in the VFLW, so I had a couple of contacts there. I first went down to some skills sessions they were hosting in the off-season and got to know a few of the coaches and board members. By the end of 2022 they asked me to come to the try-outs and I was asked to come and train with them for pre-season. There was a bit of a brutal cutting process during the preseason but I made it into the squad and I couldn’t be happier.”
It was a similar introduction for Sarah Thomas, who was keenly spending her footy off-season working on her skills alongside CYs teammate and VFLW star Sofi Georgas. “One of the VFL board members said he had noticed me at CYs games and had put me on his recommendation list for the VFLW,” Sarah says. “I was formally invited to come down to tryouts and two days later had a call from Cav (this year’s Head Coach of the VFLW) saying I was invited to the preseason. Two weeks into the preseason, Cav gave me another call to say I’m being offered a contract, and I haven’t looked back ever since!”
For Alessia, pushing herself to develop her football skills has been a long-term goal since her school footy days. “During high school I tried out for the school footy squad with my friends. It was really fun, more of a social thing, and I participated every year form 7-12. Each year I was getting so much more competitive and really enjoying the game.” When she graduated, Alessia struggled to find a local under 18s competition with vacant spots close by, and ending up catching the train twice a week to play in the WRFL competition with the Werribee Districts Football Club. “After that year I heard about Williamstown CYs and their senior team. I was nervous to play seniors so young but I also wanted to challenge myself and join in with the girls who were older and had a bit more experience”. After an incredible first season at CYs, earning herself a VAFA Rising Star nomination, Alessia again jumped at the challenge of trying out with the VFLW program, earning herself a spot on the supplementary contracts list.
On the other hand, Sarah’s love for footy came a bit later in the piece, and her progression to VFLW amazingly comes after only two years of playing footy. “I always wanted to play footy when I was young, but I was playing basketball at the time and decided the stick it out with that. When Covid hit, all my friends were playing footy and I decided I wanted to find something new. I started playing at Spotswood Football Club for my first year and fell in love with the game, everything about it. I jumped across to CYs and it just felt like home, it was like a second family to me.”
Zoe too traded basketball shoes for footy boots, having done what she deems the almost “natural progression” from Altona Gators Basketball to Williamstown CYMS Football. “Bess Chan mentioned one day that I should come down and play at the CYs. The next day I was down at preseason and four seasons later, plus a little smidge of Covid, here I am.”
The jump from local footy into the state league competition has been a big one for our CYs stars, but it has proven to be a leap they’re grateful to have made. “You’re really stepping into a different environment”, Zoe states of the transition into the VFL. “There is so many skilled players that have been playing much longer, playing in the VFL and even players coming down from the AFL in the off season. We’re all driven towards the same thing and the level of skill and knowledge I have gained from being surrounded by players of this level has been amazing.”
Sarah says, “I haven’t ever played at such a high level. The commitment level isn’t too different, it is one extra training each week, but just playing at such a different intensity was quite taxing on the body to begin with. My body was tired all the time, but I just loved it so much as so I could pick myself back up and keep going. I feel like my body is now getting used to it and I’m getting used to pushing myself and really developing my football.”
For Alessia, it isn’t just a big adjustment on the track, but off it too. “It is much more demanding, you’re suddenly really thinking hard about eating well, keeping hydrated, hitting the gym, running, just always being ready for the next training session – but I love the intensity and love being challenged. The mental and physical challenge has made me stronger. I walk away from each training feeling proud and accomplished, that I’ve achieved something special.”
For all three Seagals turned Seagulls, their journey into the VFLW is a testament to the program that has been developed, and continues to develop, between the CYs to Willi VFL. “It speaks to the culture we’re creating at the CYs”, Zoe says, “as not only are we attracting VFL players to come down and play with us, but it’s creating that sort development and flow on effect”.
For Sarah, “my love for football is now just out of this world. I love the culture of it. At my first training with CYs everyone was asking my name, including me – I just knew CYs was home. And I’ve loved meeting the new girls at the VFL, they’re so amazing and inclusive. I remember when they heard I received a contract all the girls from the leadership group sent me a message, it was so nice to feel so involved and connected to people so quickly, even at such a high level.”
We are very proud of Zoe, Sarah and Alessia and all who help and continue to foster growth and development in the female football program in Williamstown.
Whether it’s at the Fearon or Downer Oval (or, hey, how about the MCG one day?) we can’t wait to see you all in action this season and watch all your hard work pay off!