New-look Lions lay it all on the line

The Pakenham women’s team will begin its 2024 Outer East Division One season against Upwey-Tecoma on Saturday. 354028 Picture: EUAN POULTON

By David Nagel

The Pakenham Football Club women’s team will put a beneficial pre-season to the test when the Lions head to Upwey-Tecoma on Saturday in a tough initiation to the 2024 Outer East Division One season.

The Lions finished third in 2023, before downing second-placed Upwey-Tecoma in an upset semi-final performance to earn a grand final place against Olinda Ferny Creek

Pakenham was outplayed on the day; but the season could only be judged as a success.

Lions coach Rick Stalker will send out a new-look line up on Saturday, in his third season at the helm, after a high turnover of players in the pre-season.

Emma Caulfield, Steph Grentell, Tayla Sbisa and leading goalkicker Chelsea English will be missing, along with Kate Sanders, Niamh Mooren, Amanda Hobba and long-time player Tash Wakenshaw.

While those absences will hurt, the Lions have replenished their stocks with some quality.

Kate Green and Abbey McKenzie will add pace and determination around the contest, while Annalise Ryan returns after two years away to add some spark and toughness across half back and through the midfield.

Rielle Menere and Aiesha Kolaritsch are youngsters with exciting qualities, while Kayla Wilson and Bec Domotor have been impressive performers through the pre-season.

And the Lions will have some real X-factor at times this season, with a remarkable five players making the Gippsland Power list in 2024.

The Lions will only see limited minutes from the likes of Ava Deszcz, Abby Hobson, Ash Perkins, Jayda Tannahill and Bonnie Williams, who have all slotted in nicely to the Pakenham women’s pre-season training.

Stalker can expect one or two of those girls to front up on a weekly basis, while there are approximately four or five occasions throughout the year when all five quality youngsters will be available.

The Lions also have a core group that has trained hard since early November last year as they attempt to take the next step.

Midfielder Chloe Nagel hasn’t missed a beat and will once again captain the team, with 2022 league medalist Courtney Stephens as her deputy.

Rover Bianca Moody has stepped up to take on the role of deputy vice-captain, while reigning best and fairest winner Emily Devine will join forces with Kayla Menere and Courtney Karayannis to lead the backline.

The athletic Sarah Ventura looks set for a huge season in the ruck, while the pace of Tianah Vandesteeg and Sarah Connelly will be valuable assets as the season begins to unfold.

And Pippa Simon, Brianna Menere, Aliya Daniel and Tanya Stafford are all versatile types who can play in all areas of the ground.

The Lions learned some valuable lessons in their one and only practice match against Warragul Industrials on Sunday 24 March; and will be much improved for the run.

In other round-one games this week, Berwick Springs will look to continue its rapid improvement during last year when it hosts recently-promoted Belgrave, while Olinda Ferny Creek will begin its title defence against Healesville.

Healesville finished the home-and-away season last year undefeated, but were upset by Olinda Ferny Creek in a cut-throat semi-final.