In her debut AFLW season Monique Conti plays in a premiership and wins the medal for best on ground in the Grand Final

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On Saturday, March 24 midfielder Monique Conti played a pivotal role in the Western Bulldogs defeating the Brisbane Lions by six points in the 2018 AFLW Grand Final played in wet conditions at Ikon Park, having 13 disposals, winning contested possessions, providing run and kicking a critical long goal on the run with 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Conti the youngest player in the AFLW, having turned 18 years old on December 9 won the medal for best on ground in the Grand Final, with her phenomenal third quarter swinging momentum the Bulldogs way after they were held goalless in the first half and trailed Brisbane by six points at half-time.

After the seven Round 2018 AFLW season concluded Conti was named in the All-Australian squad of 40 players and at the AFLW awards on Tuesday, March 27 Conti finished runner-up in the league’s 2018 AFLW Rising Star Award with 39 votes, 11 votes behind Collingwood’s Chloe Molloy who had been a team-mate of Conti’s in the Calder Cannons 2017 TAC Cup Girls team. Molloy and Conti have further common ground having both played basketball for the Melbourne Boomers in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). Molloy and Conti were the third and fourth selections respectively at the 2017 AFLW draft. Whilst Molloy has decided to focus purely on Australian Rules Football and has stopped playing basketball Conti commented to afl.com.au in October 2017 “I would love to do both for as long as I can. It can get challenging at times but I’ve always found a way through it with support from both football and basketball. I guess I’ve just been doing it for a really long time, and it’s got me to where I am now, being able to do AFLW and WNBL. I just want to continue to do that and see what happens.”1

Although only 18 years old Monique has already achieved considerable success in both of her chosen sports, as mentioned above in her debut AFLW season with the Western Bulldogs Conti had several significant achievements including playing in premiership, winning the medal for best afield in the Grand Final, being in the initial 40 player All-Australian squad and being runner-up in the league’s Rising Star award. In basketball Conti has also had several significant achievements, being a  part of the Australian Sapphires team that won a gold medal at the 2016 under 17 World Championships held in Spain and was also recognised for her outstanding performances at this tournament, being selected in All-Star five. At 16 years of age Conti made her WNBL debut for the Melbourne Boomers in 2016/17 and won the WNBL’s Rookie of the Year award in her debut season. In her second WNBL season Conti was part of the Melbourne Boomers core rotation of nine players and the club fell narrowly short of winning the championship being defeated in the Grand Final series by Townsville two games to one. Conti’s basketball and football career to date is covered in more detail below.

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Football career before AFLW

Monique Conti was born in inner Melbourne suburb Fitzroy on 9 December 1999. At a TAC Cup Testing Day in March 2017 Conti ranked first among TAC Cup Girls players in both the 20 metre sprint and the agility test. At the Testing Day Conti commented “I started basketball when I was about five and footy when I was about 11. My brother played local footy for Aberfeldie, so I just thought I’d give it a go too. I was pretty good at it and I enjoyed it, so I just kept going.”2

Conti played four seasons in a boys football team for Essendon Doutta Stars until she was 14 years old. In her article that she wrote for www.exclusiveinsight.com Monique commented on going from the Doutta Stars “straight to playing with Melbourne University’s U18 youth girls team, and would stay there for my entire youth girls career. To be only 14 years of age, and playing alongside and against young adults, was incredibly daunting but it definitely aided my football development.

I made the Victoria Metro team for three consecutive seasons, and was All Australian during those same years.”3

In an all-star under 17 game at Whitten Oval in 2016 before an AFL women’s exhibition game Conti was best afield. In September 2016 Conti was one of 15 players including six Victorians selected in level 2 of the inaugural AFL Women’s academy which included some of the best 17 year old prospects in the country. Level one of the academy for 16 year-olds included 18 players. The AFL Women’s Academy is managed by Western Bulldogs AFLW player Aasta O’Conner who is an AFL Game Development member. The players in the Women’s academy also receive some coaching from three-time Brisbane Lions premiership player Luke Power who is the NAB AFL Academy national head coach. Power commented “Women’s football participation numbers have been steadily climbing over the past five years to now represent a quarter of all Australian football participants and the AFL is committed to supporting the elite players reach the highest level – a place on an AFLW list. I look forward to seeing the players’ development throughout the year.”4

In March and April 2017 Conti played for the Calder Cannons in the inaugural TAC Cup Girls competition for girls 15 to 18 years old, with 12 teams competing in a five round home and away season. The Calder Cannons won all five games in 2017 to record an identical win-loss record as the Murray Bushrangers, due to the Cannons having a higher percentage of 412 against Murray’s 232% the Cannons won the inaugural TAC Cup girls title. Conti’s teammate Chloe Molloy won the league goalkicking with 20 goals and was also an equal winner of the league best and fairest with Bridie Kennedy from the Dandenong Stingrays on 21 votes. Conti polled 12 votes in the league best and fairest to finish seventh overall and be the third ranked Cannon behind Molloy and bottom-age player Madison Prespakis who finished third with 20 votes. Conti was selected in the 2017 TAC Cup girls Team of the Year, being named in the centre. Monique was one of five Calder Cannons players selected in the team, being joined by Molloy – full forward,  Prespakis – ruck rover and two players named on the interchange – Molly Warburton and Georgia Patrikios. Cannons head coach and AFLW player Alicia Eva was also named the coach of the year.

Late in the 2017 VFLW season Conti played five games for Melbourne Uni in August and September and was named in her club’s best players in four of these games. Conti’s team-mates at Melbourne University included her Calder Cannons coach Alicia Eva and future Western Bulldogs AFLW team-mates Emma Kearney, Ellie Blackburn, Brooke Lochland and Lauren Spark as well as several other AFLW players including Kaitlyn Ashmore, Nicola Stevens and Moana Hope. Melbourne Uni had 10 wins and four losses during the 2017 home and away season to finish third out of 10 teams, percentage ahead of fourth placed St Kilda and two games behind minor premiers Darebin and second placed Diamond Creek. In a semi final at Piranha Park Melbourne Uni trailed St Kilda by 17 points at half-time and were defeated by 20 points which ended their 2017 season, Conti was one of her side’s best players.

AFLW career with the Western Bulldogs

In the lead up to the 2017 AFL Women’s draft on 18 October, 2017 most experts expected Conti to be a top six selection. Conti’s nominated state for the draft was Victoria which meant that she was only eligible to be drafted by one of the four Victorian clubs – Carlton, Collingwood, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs. The Western Bulldogs held picks 1 and 4, Collingwood had pick 3, Melbourne had pick 6 and Carlton’s first pick wasn’t until half-way through the second round with pick 12.

Due to her basketball commitments with the Melbourne Boomers who played their opening game of the 2017/18 WNBL season on Thursday 5 October 2017 Conti missed the AFLW draft combine which was held on the previous day.

As expected Conti was an early selection at the 2017 AFLW draft, being selected by the Western Bulldogs with the club’s second pick and fourth selection overall after the club had selected forward Isabel Huntington with pick one. Fremantle re-drafted Stephanie Cain with pick 2 and Collingwood selected Conti’s Calder Cannons teammate Chloe Molloy with pick 3.

The following seven players from the 2017 TAC Cup Girls team of the year were selected in the first 14 picks at the 2017 AFLW Draft:

3 Chloe Molloy – Collingwood

4 Monique Conti – Western Bulldogs

6 Eden Zanker – Melbourne

9 Darcy Guttridge – Collingwood

12 Georgia Gee – Carlton

13 Iilish Ross – Collingwood

14 Maddy Guerin – Melbourne

 

The profile for Conti at http://www.afl.com.au/womens/draft said “A small midfielder with elite power, clean hands and superb goal sense. Strong overhead for her size and very competitive one-on-one.”5

Of the 37 players selected at the 2017 AFLW Draft 16 were born in 1999, with Conti being the youngest player selected – having been born on 9 December 1999, eight days after Emily Mcguire who was selected by the Fremantle Dockers in Round 5 with pick 33. Whilst the majority of players selected at the 2017 AFLW draft were teenagers there were several mature age recruits including Jenna Bruton (22 years old), Courtney Gum (36) and a couple of players with experience at the elite level in other sports including 27 year-old Ashleigh Brazill who was drafted by Collingwood – the same club she plays netball at the elite level for and 29 year old Tegan Cunningham who played over 100 games in the Women’s National Basketball League and as a sixth-man played a crucial role in the Jayco Rangers winning the 2011/12 WNBL championship. Cunningham played for the Melbourne Boomers in 2016/17 alongside Conti who was playing her debut WNBL season.

In November 2017 Conti spoke to Star Weekly about the thrill of being selected by the Western Bulldogs at the AFLW Draft the previous month, commenting “It was a very surreal moment. I never expected to be drafted to an AFLW club … so to hear my name being called out at No.4 overall was definitely an exciting moment for me and my family. I can’t explain the feeling … I was nervous all day, but it was just an amazing moment.”6

In the interview with Star Weekly Conti spoke about playing both basketball and Australian Rules Football, commenting “It is definitely challenging finding the balance, but I have a lot of support around … my parents have always encouraged me to play both sports. Mum initially didn’t want me to play footy with the boys, so she just said I have to run really fast or I can’t play, so that’s what I did. I’ve been juggling both for a while, and they both definitely help each other … the fitness and physicality from football really helps in basketball, and the agility on a basketball court translates to the footy field. It all helps.”7

On 29 June 2013 an exhibition AFL women’s game was played at the MCG between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, the game was broadcast on channel seven and rated strongly. These exhibition games continued until 2016 when they were expanded to include 10 matches across Australia and involve other temporary representative teams. The success of these exhibition games prompted the AFL to fast-track the establishment of the AFL Women’s league, commencing the league in 2017, three years earlier than initially planned.

The Western Bulldogs were one if the premiership favourites for the 2017 season but failed to live up to expectations, having two wins, five losses and finishing sixth on the ladder. Two Western Bulldogs midfielders were named in the 2017 All-Australian team – Ellie Blackburn and Emma Kearney. Due to an ankle injury to the Bulldogs captain Katie Brennan Blackburn was the club’s acting captain for the last five games of the season.

On the eve of the 2018 AFLW season Western Bulldogs head coach Paul Groves commented on what he expected from Conti “She’ll get it on the outside with her elite speed and her ability to finish, her skill is high. She’ll be the flashy on the outside player more often than not. She’s got a really good leap for her, so she might even be able to take a speccy or something, but there’ll be plenty of the x-factor.”8

Due to her basketball commitments with the Melbourne Boomers Conti missed part of the Bulldogs pre-season. With the Boomers making the WNBL Grand Final there was only 12 days between the last game of the Melbourne Boomers WNBL season and the first game of the Western Bulldogs AFLW season which meant that during the pre-season Conti did significantly less contact work than her Western Bulldogs teammates. Whilst there were negatives in the Western Bulldogs recruiting a dual sport athlete in Conti there were also some significant positives as Conti having been exposed to an elite environment with the Melbourne Boomers, and would also be far better placed to deal with the pressure of making the transition to the AFLW and playing against women that are bigger and more experienced than her. At 165 centimetres tall Conti was still shorter than the average AFLW player but was nine centimetres taller than the Western Bulldogs shortest player in Angelica Gogos, whilst a few players on AFLW lists were one cm shorter than Gogos at 155 centimetres tall. The tallest players in the AFLW are significantly shorter than players Conti has played with and against in the WNBL. For example, excluding development players Conti was 10 centimetres shorter than the second shortest player on the Melbourne Boomers 2017/18 roster and 38 centimetres shorter than the Boomers tallest player in centre, Liz Cambage (203cm). In comparison the tallest players on the Western Bulldogs AFLW list were Aasta O’Conner and Kim Rennie at 182 cm tall.  Conti’s experience of competing against bigger and more experienced players in the WNBL proved to be beneficial during the 2018 AFLW season, in particular her ability to win contested possessions despite being the youngest player on an AFLW list for the 2018 season and being restricted from doing contact work for much of the Western Bulldogs pre-season.

In Round 1 of the 2018 AFLW season Conti made her AFL debut less than two months after turning 18 years old, being named in the forward pocket. On debut Conti had nine kicks, five handballs, four marks and laid one tackle in the Bulldogs 26 point win on Sunday, 4 February at Whitten Oval against the Fremantle Dockers.

As Western Bulldogs coach Paul Groves expected Conti’s form built as the season progressed, however she played her role for the team in all eight games and was very consistent, having at least 12 disposals in each game. Monique featured in the Western Bulldogs list of best players for the first time in Round 3 and she grew in confidence throughout the season. In the season review round by round published in the NAB AFL Women’s Grand Final Record Conti was one of only three Western Bulldogs players along with 2017 All-Australians Blackburn and Kearney to be named in the Western Bulldogs best players in all five games from Round 3 to Round 7.

In Round 4 Conti was one of two Western Bulldogs players who were nominated for the NAB AFLW Rising Star award along with Aisling Utri, it was the second time for the season that both players nominated for the Rising Star played for the Bulldogs, with the club having two nominees in Round 2, forward Bonnie Toogood and defender Libby Birch. The Bulldogs had a fifth nominee in Round 7 – Naomi Ferres which set a new record for most players nominated from one club in a season for the AFLW Rising Star Award (Melbourne had set the record in 2017 with four nominees). In her Round 4 AFLW Rising Star nominated game Conti had a season-high 16 disposals comprised of 11 kicks and five handballs, took three marks, laid three tackles and stood out with her speed and agility.

After Round 5 the Western Bulldogs were clear on top of the AFLW ladder having won four of their first five games of the season with the only loss being to the reigning premiers Adelaide by seven points in Round 3 at Norwood Oval. In the closing stages of the Round 3 nail-biter against Adelaide, forward Katie Brennan injured her ankle which forced her to miss three games. In Round 5 the Western Bulldogs set a new record for greatest winning margin and highest score in an AFLW game, scoring 12 goals, 14 behinds, 86 to defeat Carlton by 73 points at Whitten Oval. Brooke Lochland starred to kick seven goals  to set a new record for most goals kicked by a player in an AFLW game, surpassing the previous record of four goals.

If the Western Bulldogs won one of their last two home and away games they would finish on top of the ladder at the end of the home and away season and host the AFLW Grand Final. After trailing the Giants by a point at three quarter-time in an away game at the University of New South Wales Oval in Canberra the Giants dominated the last quarter to kick three unanswered goals and win by 18 points. In the first five Rounds of the 2018 AFLW season Conti was unable to kick a goal but was close on a couple of occasions. In Round 6 Conti kicked her first AFLW goal against the GWS Giants and she went on to be the only Western Bulldogs player to kick a goal in each of the club’s last three games of the season.

After being the pioneers of the AFL Women’s exhibition games the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne faced each other in a virtual Grand Final in Round 7 with the winner to host the Grand Final. In a thrilling Round 7 game at Whitten Oval in windy conditions the Western Bulldogs prevailed, winning by two points after small forward Brooke Lochland kicked a snap goal with less than 90 seconds remaining to put the Bulldogs in front. Bulldogs captain Brennan made her return in Round 7, however was suspended for a sling tackle on Harriet Cordner. The Bulldogs appealed the suspension but were unable to get the result over-turned with Brennan ultimately being suspended for two games, having accepted a reprimand in Round one for a rough conduct charge.

Conti was named in the All-Australian squad of 40 players, being joined in the squad by five Bulldogs teammates – Emma Kearney, Ellie Blackburn, Brooke Lochland, Hannah Scott and Libby Birch.

The Western Bulldogs finished the 2018 AFLW home and away season with five wins, two losses and a percentage of 142.5 to be the minor premiers, one game ahead of Brisbane and Melbourne who both won four games and finished second and third respectively. The GWS Giants and Adelaide finished fourth and fifth respectively, each having three wins, three losses and a draw against each other to finish the season with 14 premiership points.

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In the hours leading up to the Grand Final between the Western Bulldogs and Brisbane Lions at Ikon Park on Saturday, 24 March there was some heavy rainfall which made the conditions for the players and had a detrimental effect on crowd attendance. It continued to rain for much of the Grand Final which commenced at 12.35pm. In the first half of the Grand Final Conti had four disposals and the Bulldogs who had scored only one behind in the first half trailed Brisbane by six points. Brisbane Lions key defender Kate Lutkins was the best player on the ground in the first half, taking several intercept marks to thwart attacking forays from the Bulldogs. During the critical third quarter Conti was the most influential player on the ground, adapting to the wet conditions, winning the contested ball, using her speed, agility and lateral movement to create space and was damaging with her ball use.

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Late in the third quarter Brisbane key defender Kate Lutkins handballed whilst being tackled by Kirsten McLeod, Conti gathered the ball on the full in her left hand run away from goal to get around Lutkins and McLeod who were both on the ground. With a Brisbane player in pursuit Conti turned towards goal and had a snap shot on her right foot from 40 metres out which landed a couple of metres out from goal and bounced through for a goal to extend the Bulldogs lead to 13 points with 15 seconds left in the third quarter. The Western Bulldogs dominated in the third quarter kicking three goals and one behind whilst keeping. Conti had seven disposals in the third quarter. The Western Bulldogs won a thrilling Grand Final by six points, the same margin that Adelaide had defeated the Brisbane Lions in the inaugural AFLW Grand Final.

In the Grand Final Conti had nine kicks, four handballs, four clearances, kicked a goal, had 12 contested possessions and gained 298 metres to set team-highs in the latter two categories. Conti’s fitness allowed her to play 97% game-time in the Grand Final ranked third for the Bulldogs behind Libby Birch and Lauren Spark. Conti’s four clearances in the Grand Final ranked third for the game, behind Bulldogs teammates Kearney and Blackburn.

Conti won the medal for best afield in the Grand Final with nine votes to finish one vote ahead of Brisbane defender Kate Lutkins with Western Bulldogs acting captain Ellie Blackburn third on five votes.

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At the Grand Final post-game press conference Western Bulldogs Head Coach Paul Groves spoke about Conti, commenting “We knew because of her basketball that she’d probably slip a little in the draft. It was tricky for that little period (before the season) because we had the no risk clause in her basketball contract so we were doing all the skills stuff to try and get that but you just can’t replicate game stuff so she was always going to be markedly better from Round 1 through to Round 7. And even in her basketball she is a big game player so I had that feeling from her. Her third quarter was phenomenal.”

In the press conference Conti spoke about adapting to the conditions in the third quarter, commenting “Like Grovesy said before, we had to adjust to wet weather footy, and I wasn’t doing that in the first half personally, I was just playing like it was dry footy waiting for the ball to go over the back of packs and stuff. So I had to lift my game and try and get the ball on the ground because that’s where it was and that falls into the advantage of the smaller players so I had to adjust a little bit in that sense and try and be on the bottom of the packs a bit more and kick it to our advantage.”

 

Conti spoke about the going from playing in the WNBL Grand Final series with the Melbourne Boomers in mid-January to starting the AFL W season in early February, saying “Coming off a WNBL Grand Final series and then losing in the third game it was really tough for me but then to switch off the basketball mode to come into the football with a great group of girls, great coaches and coaching staff as well. To just have that seven, eight weeks of just focussing on footy and trying to make it all the way to Grand Final week. It was all up for grabs, we all did it together and it is just a great feeling to have one of the two premierships that I have played in over the last couple of months, it is very special.”

At the 2018 AFLW Awards four Western Bulldogs players were named in the All-Australian team –Hannah Scott at half-back, Emma Kearney in the centre, Brooke Lochland at half-forward and Ellie Blackburn on the interchange.  Whilst Conti didn’t make the final 21 player team, being selected in the initial squad of 40 provided recognition of the impact she had in her first AFLW season with the Bulldogs.

Throughout the 2018 season Monique was remarkably consistent, having a season high of 16 disposals and a season-low of 12 disposals. After not kicking a goal in her first five games of the season Conti kicked a goal in each of her last three games of the season.

Conti played all eight games for the Western Bulldogs in 2018, averaging 13.8 disposals, 8.9 kicks, 4.9 handballs, 2.9 marks, 1.8 tackles. Monique ranked fifth at the Western Bulldogs for total kicks, equal second for handballs and third for disposals behind Emma Kearney and Ellie Blackburn, third for goal assists, equal third for marks, sixth for metres gained, fourth for score involvements, second for contested possessions behind Kearney and fifth for uncontested possessions.

Conti’s speed, agility and ability to create drive were strengths in 2018 however one area where she exceeded expectations was the ability to win the contested ball, especially due to doing less contact work during pre-season training whilst the WNBL season was in progress. Conti ranked 11th in the AFLW for contested possessions per game with 8.3, ranking ahead of experienced midfielders Karen Paxman (8.0), teammate Blackburn (7.5) and her Calder Cannons coach Alicia Eva (7.1).

At the 2018 AFLW awards on Tuesday, March 27 Conti finished runner-up in the league’s Rising Star Award with 39 votes, 11 votes behind Chloe Molloy with Adelaide key defender Sarah Allen finishing third on 15 votes. Molly polled the maximum 50 votes, receiving five votes from all 10 members of the voting panel whilst Conti received four votes from nine judges and three votes from one judge. Nine players received votes in the 2018 AFLW Rising Star Award including four Bulldogs with Bonnie Toogood finishing fourth on 12 votes, Aisling Utri polling six votes and Libby Birch receiving three votes to finish seventh and equal eighth respectively.

Western Bulldogs midfielder Emma Kearney won the AFLW 2018 league best and fairest award with 14 votes to finish five votes ahead of Chloe Molly, Courtney Gum and Dana Hooker. Western Bulldogs forward Brooke Lochland won the medal for being the league’s highest goalkicker in the 2018 season, kicking 12 goals to finish one goal ahead of Brisbane Lion Jess Wuetschner.

At the 2018 Western Bulldogs best and fairest Conti polled 95 votes to finish in eight place, just five votes behind Libby Birch in fifth place. The top four were Emma Kearney winning her second Bulldogs best and fairest on 121 votes followed by Ellie Blackburn (114), Kristy Lamb (107) and Lauren Spark (106). Conti won the best young player award at the Bulldogs best and fairest.

Basketball

In 2016 Conti had an outstanding basketball season with the Melbourne Tigers in the Big V youth league women championship playing as a point guard. The Melbourne Tigers won the championship and Conti won a swag of awards, receiving the division Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award, the golden hands and leading points scorer awards and was also named in the All-Star five alongside one of her Tigers teammates Brianna Babic.

Junior career with Australia

The Australian Sapphires entered the 2016 under 17 World Championships held in Spain during June and July having never finished better than fifth at the tournament. Some impressive lead-up form including a three point loss to the USA in a warm-up game had the Australian camp confident that they could surpass the Sapphires’ previous best performance. Australia started the tournament in great fashion, winning all three of their group games against Mexico (98-38), the People’s Republic of China (66-41) and France (55-48). In the opening win against Mexico Conti scored 14 points and had six assists.

In the semi-final Australia defeated the USA 73-60, Conti scored 10 points ranked second for the Sapphires behind Jazmin Shelley with 23 points, took four rebounds and had three assists. The Australian Sapphires outscored Italy in every quarter of the final to have a comfortable 62-38 victory to win the gold medal and be crowned world champions. In the final Conti scored a game-high 18 points, took six rebounds, made an equal game-high three steals and had two assists. Conti shot the ball proficiently to have a field goal accuracy of 54.5%, making four of her six two point field goal attempts and two of her five three-pointers.  Throughout the tournament Conti started games on the bench for the Sapphires but was then able to make a significant impact once substituted into the game with her speed, agility and ball handling skills.

Conti was one of three Australian Sapphires to be named in the All-Star five along with forward Jasmine Simmons, and centre Ezi Magbegor who was named the tournament MVP. Other members of the 2016 gold medal winning Australian Sapphires team were Jaz Shelley, Kiera Rowe, Rebecca Pizzey, Abby Cubillo, Samantha Simons, Cassidy McLean, Lara McSpadden, Lucy Cochrane and Miela Goodchild. At the tournament Conti averaged 10.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 19.6 minutes court-time per game. On the gold medal winning Australian Sapphires team Conti ranked third for points per game behind Magbegor (12.5) and Simmons (11.0), equal second for assists, third for steals, seventh for rebounds and equal fifth for minutes played.

In an interview with her SEABL team the Melbourne Tigers in May 2017 Conti was asked “What are your thoughts on winning the Gold Medal last year at the Under 17s world championships?” Monique responded “Winning that Gold medal was definitely a surreal feeling, especially knowing that we made history and being a part of such an achievement is something that I will cherish forever. Representing the green and gold at a world championship is something special and to go out there and win a gold medal for the country was an amazing feeling and achievement by the team. To top off the tournament with an All Star 5 award was unreal and to be selected in that alongside two other teammates makes that gold medal and the award extremely special. Winning the gold medal came from the amazing bond we shared as a group including the coaching staff. Our unity on and off the court is what drove us to winning the championship and was well fought out and deserved by us girls and the team as a whole.”9

In December 2016 Conti represented the Australian Gems at the 2016 FIBA Under 18 Women’s Oceania Championship held in Fiji. The Gems won all five games, defeating New Zealand 107-52 in the gold medal game. Conti averaged 12.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 3.8 steals and 18.9 minutes per game. Conti ranked second for the Gems in steals, equal fourth for assists just behind three players who averaged 3.4 assists and equal fourth for minutes played. Conti was superb with her ball handling, only having 0.8 turnovers per game and shot the ball at a team-high 60.5% from the field despite just under half of her shots being three-pointers. Conti made a team-high 10 three-pointers for the tournament, shooting the ball at 55.6% from beyond the arc.

At the 2017 FIBA Under 19 World Cup in Italy during July Australia finished second in Group D, defeating Hungry by 24 points and Mexico by 75 points but lost to Japan by five points. The Sapphires defeated Latvia by five points in a Round of 16 game and were defeated by Russia 65-67 in a quarter final. In the classification games for fifth to eight place Australia defeated China 70-64 and lost to France 45-47 to finish the tournament in sixth place. Conti was the third youngest player on the Australian Gems team and played all seven games, she ranked second for the Gems for assists,  third for steals and fifth for minutes played.

SEABL career

During the 2017 SEABL season Conti played 16 of a possible 22 games for the Melbourne Tigers, averaging 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.  Of the players that played at least five games for the season Conti led the Tigers for total assists, ranked equal first with Louella Tomlinson for points per game, ranked sixth for rebounds, and first for three-pointers made. Conti ranked equal second in the SEABL for assists per game with Kathleen Scheer, behind Lauren Mansfield (6.0). At just 17 years of age Conti was selected in the 2017 All-SEABL Second team.

Conti will be returning to the Melbourne Tigers for the 2018 season, Tomlinson and Briana Babic are returning and Rebecca Cole joins the club. The 2018 SEABL season starts this weekend.

WNBL

After Conti returned from the 2017 Under 17 World Championship where she was part of the Australian Sapphires gold medal winning team she had discussions with the Melbourne Boomers about joining their WNBL team for the 2016/17 season. Monique commented to http://www.tigersbasketball.com.au “When the Boomers approached me for the upcoming WNBL I was pretty excited. I wasn’t sure what to expect as it all happened quite fast. I assumed I was going to be confirmed a development position but I was then told I was selected in the 10 playing group which at first, was quite challenging considering I was only 16 going into a team full of great elite athletes with plenty of experience but definitely an offer I couldn’t turn down. The opportunity to play at such an elite level and to develop my game further was a no brainer.”10

At 165 centimetres tall Conti is frequently the smallest player on the basketball court and in the lead-up to making her WNBL debut for the Melbourne Boomers in October 2016 commented to basketballvictoria.com.au “I don’t think it (my height) holds me back whatsoever. I definitely see it as an opportunity to stand out because I just do what I’m good at – which is use my speed and ball-handling. I do my job on the court as a point guard; telling people what to do and like I said I just use my strengths.”11 Conti’s advise for young players is to “Just do what you’re good at and keep working on your game. The big thing is to find your point of difference – which is what I’ve been trying to do and it has helped me along the way.”12

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Whilst Conti played for the Boomers in most of their games throughout the 2016/17 season she often played limited court-time. Being a part of the Melbourne Boomer’s 10 player playing group and training alongside other back-court players such as Maddie Garrick, Rebecca Cole and Brittany Smart was a great experience for her and assisted with her development as a player.

In the Boomers final game of the 2016/17 regular season against Bendigo at the State Basketball centre on 18 February Conti scored a season-high seven points, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer on the final siren and also made three steals.

During the 2016/17 WNBL season with the Melbourne Boomers Conti played 19 of a possible 24 games, averaging 1.5 points, 0.7 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 steals and seven minutes court-time per game.

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At the end of the 2016/17 WNBL season the coaches and captains from all eight WNBL club’s each cast their 3,2,1 votes for the Rookie of the Year Award and were unable to vote for players from their WNBL club. On 22 February, 2017 it was announced that Conti won the WNBL 2016/17 Betty Watson Rookie of the Year Award, polling 25 of a possible 42 votes to finish ahead of Sarah Elsworthy, Keely Froling, Anneli Maley and Cassidy McLean. Previous winners of the WNBL Rookie of the Year Award include Australian Opals Olympians Lauren Jackson, Laura Hodges, Kathleen MacLeod, Abby Bishop, Cayla George and Steph Talbot.

On winning the WNBL ROTY award and her progression as a player during the 2016/17 WNBL season Conti commented to wnbl.com.au “When I walked up to receive my award, it was a surreal feeling because I really was not expecting it but it’s pretty awesome to win it. It was quite a transition from juniors to senior level. But the Boomers are so welcoming and made me feel a part of the league straight away. Across the season I grew as a player and became more confident on and off the court and I think I finished the season off quite well.”13

The Boomers retained four guards from their 2016/17 roster – Smart, Garrick, Cole & Conti, however had a new-look front-court in 2017/18, recruiting two-time Olympian and 2010/11 WNBL MVP Liz Cambage along with Louella Tomlinson who led the WNBL for blocked shots in 2015/16. Cambage was one of two members of the Boomers only Championship winning side of 2010/11 re-joining the club along with guard/forward Jenna O’Hea who was an Australian Opals team-mate of Liz’s at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Melbourne also recruited New Zealand forward Kalani Purcell, American forward Courtney Duever and 20 year-old Australian forward Ashleigh Grant.

On 18 September, 2017 it was announced that Conti had signed with the Deakin Melbourne Boomers for four WNBL seasons until the end of the 2020/21 season, during the agreement Conti would also complete her VCE studies and aspires to attend Deakin University the naming rights sponsor of the Boomers. After signing the contract Conti commented “I’m so thankful for this opportunity, I love the Boomers, the great partnership the club has with Deakin University has filled me with the drive and desire to aim for the very best tertiary education. Playing for Melbourne’s WNBL team is a dream come true and I can’t wait to get back out there and keep building my basketball career. For the club to show the faith in me with a four-year contract is fantastic, I have a great opportunity now to stay at home and do what I love at my home club.”14

At the time of signing the contract with the Melbourne Boomers Conti confirmed that she would nominate for the AFL Women’s draft and commented “I love both sports equally and to be given the chance to play both is a dream come true. Everyone at the Boomers has been really supportive to help me explore and follow my passion for both sports.”15

A change in the length of the WNBL season in 2017/18 meant that it was possible for Conti to play both WNBL and AFLW in 2018 when previously the WNBL season and the AFLW season would have overlapped and she probably would have been forced to prioritise one sport over the other. The 2017/18 WNBL season was considerably shorter than previous seasons. Whilst the regular season continued to commence in early October it now concluded in late December and the finals would be played in January with the WNBL championship to be decided before Australia Day. Previously the regular season finished in mid-February and the finals concluded in mid-March, the same time that the AFLW home and away season finished.

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In the opening game of the 2017/18 WNBL season on Thursday October 5 Conti scored eight points, had three rebounds, two assists and a steal in 19 minutes and six seconds court-time during the Melbourne Boomers 15 point win against the Jayco Rangers at Dandenong Stadium.

During a Round 10 game at the State Basketball Centre Conti scored a season-high 12 points in a 44 point win against the Bendigo Spirit, making two of her four three pointers, both two point field goal attempts and both free-throws in just 11 minutes and 12 seconds court-time to have a field goal accuracy of 67%.

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The Melbourne Boomers finished the regular season with a record of 12 wins and nine losses to finish fourth, three wins behind minor premiers the Perth Lynx and two wins behind Sydney and Townsville who finished second and third respectively. It was the first time the Boomers had made the finals since 2013/14 when they also finished fourth.

In their semi-final series the Melbourne Boomers upset minor premiers the Perth Lynx two games to nil, winning Game 1 at the State Basketball Centre by 16 points and dominated the final quarter of Game two at the Bendat Basketball centre 30-16 to defeat Perth by nine points after trailing by five points at three quarter-time.

Melbourne scored the first six points of game 1 of the Grand Final series at Townsville Stadium however Townsville responded by scoring the next eight points to take the lead. Townsville led 21-20 after a high scoring first quarter however the second quarter was an arm wrestle with each side only managing 10 points. The Fire restricted Melbourne to 10 points again in the third quarter whilst scoring 17 points themselves to lead 48-40 with a quarter remaining.  Melbourne closed the gap to one point with six minutes and 15 seconds remaining, however Townsville then went on a 10-2 run to open up a nine point lead, the Fire eventually won game 1 69-64 to take a 1-0 advantage in the Grand Final series.

Whilst Townsville had a passionate 2,200 person crowd supporting them at Townsville Stadium in game 1 it was a very different atmosphere when they played game 2 on the road in front of a sell-out crowd of 3,655 people at the State Basketball Centre in Melbourne. An 18-11 second quarter for Townsville set up a 35-26 lead at half-time of game 2. A Batkovic jump shot with five minutes and 57 seconds remaining in the third term extended the Fire’s lead to 14 points, however Melbourne fought back to reduce the margin to four points, 47-43 at three quarter-time. Another Batkovic jump shot with three minutes and 39 seconds remaining gave Townsville a 55-50 advantage however Liz Cambage scored eight of the next 10 points in the game to give Melbourne a one point lead with eight seconds remaining. Batkovic received the ball in the low post and whilst under pressure from Kalani Purcell put him up a shot with her preferred left hand from the right hand side of the key, the ball rolled around the top of the ring but didn’t drop giving the Boomers a one point victory.

All three Grand Final games were a sell-out with 8,000 spectators attending during the three game series which was also broadcast live by Fox Sports on pay TV. In the WNBL’s first ever game 3 of a Grand Final series Batkovic set the tone early with nine points and four rebounds in the first five and a half minutes of the game. Townsville controlled game 3, winning 70-57 to win their third championship in four seasons.

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During the 2017/18 WNBL season with the Melbourne Boomers Conti played all 26 games, averaging 3.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 12.7 minutes per game.  Conti’s reading of the play and quick hands stood out, with her 0.8 steals per game ranking second in the WNBL amongst players that played at least five games and averaged less 15 minutes court-time per game behind Carly Boag. In the 2017/18 WNBL season Conti scored more than seven points in a game six times with a season high of 12 points in Round 10 against the Bendigo Spirit. Conti had at least three assists in a game three times with a season-high of four assists against the Perth Lynx in Round 11.

Conti is one of five players from the Boomers 2017/18 core rotation who have signed with the club for the 2018/19 WNBL season along with Jenna O’Hea, Maddie Garrick, Kalani Purcell and Ash Grant. Whilst centre, Liz Cambage is not returning for the 2017/18 season the Boomers have signed two players who represented the Australian Opals at the 2016 Rio Olympics – Cayla George and Steph Talbot along with Ezi Magbegor who was Conti’s successor as WNBL Rookie of the Year – winning the award for her 2017/18 season with the University of Canberra Capitals. Magbegor will be a team-mate of Conti’s at the Deakin Melbourne Boomers for the next three seasons until the end of the 2020/21 season. To celebrate Magbegor winning the 2017/18 WNBL Rookie of the Year Milestones and misses published an article covering her career to date. A link to this article on Ezi Magbegor is below:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/2018/01/14/ezi-magbegor-becomes-the-first-university-of-canberra-capitals-player-to-win-the-wnbl-rookie-of-the-year-award/

The Boomers have also signed Jaz Shelly who was a team-mate of Coni and Magbegor on the Australian Sapphires team that won a gold medal at the 2016 under 17 World Championship. Five members of the Melbourne Boomers 2018/19 roster will be representing their country at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. O’Hea, George, Talbot and Magbegor will all be playing for Australia whilst Purcell is playing for New Zealand who are coached by Melbourne Boomers head coach Guy Molloy. The basketball tournament starts today, the Opals are in Pool A and will be playing their group matches in Townsville whilst New Zealand are in Pool B and will be playing their group matches in Cairns.

Epilogue

Conti plans to continue juggling Australian Rules Football and basketball for as long as she possibly can, having been inspired by dual sports athletes such as Erin Phillips who demonstrated that you could reach the very top in both basketball and football. In her very first AFLW season Conti has placed her name in the record books, becoming just the second player to win the medal for best afield in a Grand Final, joining her idol Phillips in this select group. About her sporting future Monique wrote in her article ‘The ball is in my court’ for exclusiveinsight.com.au “The truth of the matter is, I do see myself being a dual sport athlete for the entirety of my career, similar to how Ellyse Perry was able to play soccer and cricket at the highest possible level.

Ellyse is such an incredible role model for young athletic girls, as too is someone like Erin Phillips who played and enjoyed so much success in the WNBA, as she now looks to finish her sports career in the AFLW league. I take plenty of inspiration from Ellyse, Erin and other dual sports women that blazed the trail for me to pursue my own athletic ambition.”16

Just as Monique derived inspiration from Ellyse Perry and Erin Phillips many young girls are inspired by what Conti has achieved in her sporting career at just 18 years of age and how effectively she has been able to manage being a dual sport athlete and making an impact at the elite level in both basketball and football.

At just 18 years of age Conti has had already had several  significant achievements in relation to her career at the elite level in basketball and football, winning the 2016/17 WNBL Rookie of the Year Award and has become part of the Melbourne Boomers core rotation. In AFLW Conti has reached even greater heights, in her debut season playing in a premiership with the Western Bulldogs and winning the medal for best afield in the Grand Final.

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

1 www.afl.com.au/news/2017-10-17/aflw-talented-vic-trio-set-to-be-snapped-up

2 http://taccup.com.au/conti-fires-for-cannons/

3 https://www.exclusiveinsight.com/monique-conti-the-ball-is-in-my-court/

4 www.afl.com.au/news/2017-01-17/womens-academy-to-fasttrack-young-talent

5 http://www.afl.com.au/womens/draft

6 http://www.starweekly.com.au/sports/conti-continues-to-shine/

7 http://www.starweekly.com.au/sports/conti-continues-to-shine/

8 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-03/aflw-monique-conti-bounces-from-basketball-court-to-footy-field/9392028

9 https://www.tigersbasketball.com.au/q-a-with-monique-conti/

10 https://www.tigersbasketball.com.au/q-a-with-monique-conti/

11 http://basketballvictoria.com.au/sapphires-star-monique-conti-shines-world-stage/

12 http://basketballvictoria.com.au/sapphires-star-monique-conti-shines-world-stage/

13 http://wnbl.com.au/blog/news/monique-conti-reflects-201617-rookie-year-award/

14 http://wnbl.com.au/melbourne/news/monique-conti-signs-4yrs-launches-600x3mc-confirms-aflw-opportunity/

15 http://wnbl.com.au/melbourne/news/monique-conti-signs-4yrs-launches-600x3mc-confirms-aflw-opportunity/

16 https://www.exclusiveinsight.com/monique-conti-the-ball-is-in-my-court/

 

 

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