Charlotte Ryan’s ascension from high-level basketballer to AFLW draft prospect has parallels to her ability to weave through traffic; quick, successful and effective.
The winger was 13-years-old when the AFLW first begun at Ikon Park in 2017, amid iconic scenes with AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan sending supporters home due to exceeding the crowd capacity.
Already an accomplished basketballer at representative level for Sandringham Sabres, she had never played a game of footy before AFLW started, but saw promise in the establishment of an elite football competition for women.
Later that year she made her debut for the Beaumaris Junior Football Club in the under 14s, and come 2019 she was awarded best-afield in the SMJFL under 18 division two Grand Final, playing as a 16-year-old amongst older, more experienced bodies.
Now, after representing Vic Metro in the 2021 Under 19 National Carnival, and featuring for the Southern Saints in their 2021 VFLW finals campaign, Ryan finds herself in contention to be drafted.
“I never really looked at footy when I was young because there were no pathways,” Ryan said.
“One day Beaumaris football club asked if I was interested in footy, this was in 2017 and I was a little bit nervous at first, I was a bit hesitant, but I just gave it a go, so I played in there, I think it was under 14s at the time, I think that’s how old I was.
“I sort of just fell in-love with it from the first game, so I kept playing.”
Juggling representative basketball commitments on Friday nights and both football and domestic basketball on weekends, sometimes even on the same day, puts Ryan in a special bracket for athletic capabilities.
Her quick feet, which saw her rank in the top 10 for agility at pre-season NAB League fitness testing, are a highlight of her game, so much so that some at the Dragons dubbed her ‘twinkle toes’.
It was her speed and evasiveness, along with her quick decision-making with ball in hand that helped her with the transition from under 19 level with the NAB League to VFLW for the Saints, where she played in their final three games of the year, including two knock-out finals against Port Melbourne and Geelong.
Despite the results not going Southern’s way, Ryan made the most of the opportunity by gleaming a football education from former Western Bulldogs AFLW player Rebecca Neaves, and St Kilda’s Tyanna Smith, who finished fourth in the 2021 AFLW Rising Star voting and second in St Kilda’s best-and-fairest count in just her first year in the competition.
“I didn’t play that many games with the Saints because of Vic Metro, their training times clashed, so through metro and saints I definitely have been getting better than I have been in understanding the game more, which I think is one of the hardest aspects for a lot of the girls, because it hasn’t been with them for so long,” she said.
“But by keeping my hands on the footy and playing at high levels, that’s really helped me a lot more.”
Credit for much of her progression also goes to her older brother, Ben, who has assumed the role of personal coach for his sister.
“...he was the one that really got me into it more than anything else.
“He really helps me after the games, with what I should focus on, what I could have done better, or certain positions I should have been in. Even mid-game sometimes he’s yelling at me, telling me what to do, which really helps.
“He’s helped me out with a lot of what I know about footy to this day.”
With both NAB League and VFLW seasons finishing for her respective sides, Ryan will play-out the remainder of the 2021 season at East Sandringham in the SMJFL under 18s, in a side stacked with fellow Dragons including 2021 captain Kiana Lynch, leading goalkicker Ebony Angelopoulos and close friend, Summer Trim, among others.
With the draft only a few days away, and having accomplished so much in her junior football career already, Ryan is in no doubt about how she sees the next period of her life panning-out.
“I think it was the 2019 grand final against Mordy (Mordialloc-Braeside), when I was still at Beauy (Beaumaris). I think after receiving BOG (best on ground), because it was the age above and only my second season, I thought ‘maybe I can go further than just what I’m doing right now’”.
“I’d always been tossing-up between footy and basketball, because I’d put so much into basketball and only just started footy. Then opportunities started arising through footy and I sort of thought that I better take them and see as far as I can go, and try and get drafted, and if it doesn’t happen this year I’ll put all my effort into next year and try again.”
Selection will be another stop on a rapid journey that, if her rate of improvement is anything to go by, is set for bigger and better things.