During an incredible sporting career Erin Phillips has reached the pinnacle as a player in two sports – basketball and Australian rules football. Whilst Erin excelled at Australian Rules football as a junior, at 13 years of age she was told that she could no longer play football with the boys and stopped playing. Erin focussed her attention on basketball and achieved the ultimate success internationally, at club level in the WNBA and WNBL, playing on championships in both leagues whilst also playing a prominent role as a point guard for Australia’s national team the Opals. Erin represented the Australian Opals at five major championships including two as a starter and was a part of a medal winning team three times including a gold medal at the 2006 World Championships in Brazil, the first (and to this stage only) time an Australian basketball team has won a gold medal at senior level in a major championship. In 2016 Phillips returned to her original passion Australian rules football. Before being recruited by the Adelaide Crows Football Club when she was 31 years old the only competitive games of Australian Rules football Erin had played since she was 13 years old were the annual Slowdown celebrity games in the early to mid 2000’s. Predominantly playing in the midfield Erin was phenomenal during the inaugural AFLW season in 2017 winning the league best and fairest, the Adelaide Crows best and fairest, goal of the year, she also won the medal for best on ground during the Grand Final and played in a thrilling and historic premiership with the Adelaide Crows who she co-captain’s along with defender Chelsea Randall. A quad injury hampered Erin’s 2018 AFLW season which resulted in her playing predominantly as a key forward.
From 2002/03 to 2007/08 Phillips played six seasons for the Adelaide Lightning in the WNBL. Phillips flourished in her third season in 2004/05, excelling as a point guard and in all three seasons from 2004/05 to 2006/07 she averaged more than 14.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. Earning her first selection in the WNBL All-Star five at just 19 years of age in 2004/05 and backed it up to earn selection in three consecutive seasons. Whilst Erin’s time with the Adelaide Lightning had a significant impact on her professional career, it was also where she met her future wife, Tracy Gahan, an American import who played as a power forward for Adelaide as a team-mate of Erin’s in 2006/07 and 2007/08. Adelaide suffered several close finals losses whilst Erin was playing for the club. Erin missed the end of the 2006/07 season due to a knee injury but returned during the 2007/08 season and played in the Adelaide side that won the 2007/08 WNBL Championship.
In mid-January 2018 Phillips retired as a basketball player, however she retains a strong involvement in the sport and after being ‘Director of Player and Franchise Development’ for WNBA club Dallas Wings in 2017 she took on her first full-time coaching role, being appointed as an assistant coach at Dallas, working alongside head coach Fred Williams. Today (American time), May 18, 2018 the Dallas Wings play their first game of the 2018 WNBA season on the road against the Phoenix Mercury who are coached by Australian Opals head coach Sandy Brondello. Between 2006 and 2016 Phillips played nine seasons in the WNBA and played in two WNBA Championships – 2012 as a starter with Indiana Fever and 2014 with the Brondello coached Phoenix Mercury alongside Penny Taylor who was an Opals team-mate of Erin’s in all five major championships that Erin represented Australia. In her last WNBA season in 2016 Phillips played 32 games for the Dallas Wings.
In mid-April 2018 Phillips committed to the Adelaide Crows for the 2019 AFLW season however she is unable to officially sign with the club until the re-contracting period opens. At a press conference on 17 April 2018 Phillips commented “I definitely still feel I’ve got plenty of football left in me. I’ve got to at least have one season with no injuries, right? My goal is at least three more (seasons) and then see what happens after that. I’d love to just play football as long as I can. Obviously, having retired from basketball I know that there’s no going back. This will be my final retirement, if you like, when I do quit football. I want to be completely done, so I’ll play as long as I can.”
Today (Australian time), May 19, 2018 is the 33rd birthday of Erin Phillips. To celebrate her birthday Milestones and misses is taking a look back at her phenomenal multi-faceted sporting career. Below Erin’s illustrious sporting career is comprehensively covered, from playing for the Adelaide Lightning in the WNBL, with several clubs in the WNBA and with the Australian Opals through to her first two seasons in the AFLW with the Adelaide Crows. Phillips’ off-field basketball roles are also covered.
Erin was born in Carlton on 19 May 1985, her parents are Julie and Greg and she has two sisters Rachel and Amy. Erin was born when her Dad Greg was playing his third season of Australian Rules Football in the VFL with Collingwood, after his fourth season with Collingwood in 1986 the Phillips family returned to Adelaide. Erin’s dad Greg is an inductee of the South Australian Football Hall of Fame, having played 343 SANFL games for Port Adelaide and 84 VFL (now AFL) games for Collingwood. Greg was a member of eight Port Adelaide premiership teams in the SANFL including one in 1992 as captain and was selected at centre-half back in Port Adelaide’s ‘Official Greatest team 1870 to 2000’.
Whilst Erin excelled at Australian Rules football as a junior, at 13 years of age she was told that she could no longer play football with the boys. Growing up Erin had dreamed of playing Australian Rules football at the highest level and ideally following in her dad Greg’s footsteps and representing the Port Adelaide Football Club. As a junior footballer Erin had outstanding skills and playing as the only girl in her team she won the club’s under 13 best and fairest. On Foxtel program ‘Open Mike’ Erin commented on her time as a junior footballer “It was very special for a lot of reasons, SMOSH West Lakes was my football club then, they’re a very, very special club to me because they were just so inclusive and made me feel as though I wasn’t the odd one out.“
Growing up Erin played basketball as a junior for the West Adelaide Bearcats and went on to represent South Australia metro at under-age national championships in the under 16’s and under.
WNBL career with Adelaide Lightning from 2002/03 to 2007/08
At 17 years of age Erin made her WNBL debut with the Adelaide Lightning in 2002/03, playing limited game-time off the bench. When Erin made her debut with Adelaide Lightning and was attending two training sessions a day she was a student at Seaton High School. Phillips played six consecutive seasons with Adelaide and during this time established herself as one of the best players in the league.
In her first two WNBL seasons during 2002/03 and 2003/04 Phillips played a total of 45 games for Adelaide Lightning, averaging 5.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.6 steals per game. In her third WNBL season Phillips took her game to a new stratosphere, playing 23 games for Adelaide and increased her scoring output per game by 250% from her previous season, whilst her assists rose by 442% and rebounds increased by 239%. Phillips averaged 15.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game and was rewarded for her outstanding season with selection in the 2004/05 WNBL All-Star Five at just 19 years of age. During 2004/05 Erin ranked second in the WNBL for assists, equal fifth for steals with 1.5 per game and despite being shorter than most other players on the court ranked fourth in the league with 3.1 offensive rebounds per game.
During 2002/03 Adelaide lost a semi-final to Sydney on the road 70-72 in overtime, this was followed a season later by a 61 to 65 loss to Sydney on the road again in a preliminary final. In 2004/05 Adelaide finished fourth on the ladder with 13 wins and eight losses, three wins behind Bulleen and Sydney in second and third respectively and six wins behind minor champions the Dandenong Rangers. On the way to a road semi-final the Adelaide team were involved in a bad car accident in Sydney which resulted in players being injured and upset. The start of the game was delayed, Phillips displayed immense leadership and composure to play an exceptional game against Sydney, scoring 40 points however Adelaide suffered another heart-breaking loss to Sydney, being defeated in overtime in a shoot-out 93-94.
After Phillips break-out 2004/05 WNBL season rival clubs spent more time trying to curtail her influence on games. Despite the increased pressure and attention during 2005/06 Erin was able to maintain the high standard she set the previous season and was again among the league leaders in several statistical categories – leading the WNBL for assists per game and also ranked fifth for free-throw accuracy. During 2005/06 Phillips played 23 games for the Adelaide Lightning, averaging 16.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game. During 2005/06 Adelaide avoided playing Sydney in a final as Sydney finished outside the top four in fifth position. Whilst the opponent and venue was different the end result was the same with Adelaide losing a home preliminary final 81 to 83 to Canberra in overtime.
Whilst Erin achieved great success both individually and from a team perspective playing for Adelaide in six WNBL seasons from 2002/03 to 2007/08 a relationship built during this time would also have a significant impact on her life. Adelaide team-mate Tracy Gahan was a team-mate of Erin’s at Adelaide for two seasons and later on became Erin’s wife with the pair marrying in the United States. For the third consecutive season Erin was one of the best players in the WNBL during 2006/07, however she was unable to play in the finals due to tearing the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in her right knee in a collision with opponent (and Opals team-mate) Telly Bevilaqua during a road game against Canberra on January 20. On the injury to his star guard Adelaide head coach Chris Lucas commented “She’s pretty distraught at the moment. It’s terrible for the team. It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever coached but to lose your engine room is disappointing.”1 During 2006/07 Adelaide again lost to Canberra in a preliminary final, this time in Canberra 74 to 82. In 2006/07 Phillips played 17 games for the Adelaide Lightning, averaging a career-best 16.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Phillips led the WNBL for assists per game and was named in the WNBL All-Star five for the third consecutive season in 2006/07, being the only player to earn selection in all three seasons from 2004/05 to 2006/07, achieving the feat at just 21 years of age.
The Adelaide Lightning made the WNBL finals in all six seasons from 2002/03 to 2007/08, however during the first five seasons in this six season sequence the club suffered some heart-breaking narrow finals losses and were unable to make the Grand Final. Adelaide Lightning commenced the 2007/08 WNBL season as one of the favourites for the championships, however after several narrow finals losses in the previous three seasons from 2004/05 to 2006/07 with Lucas as head coach many people expected that the only way Lucas would return as head coach in 2008/09 was if Adelaide won the 2007/08 championship. Lucas didn’t even end up seeing out the first month of the 2007/08 season, three weeks into the season Chris Lucas was sacked as Adelaide’s head coach and replaced by Vicki Valk who had played in three WNBL championships with North Adelaide and Adelaide in the 1990’s. Allegedly a row between Lucas and Adelaide’s owner Vince Marino over the court-time of Vince’s daughter Angela played a part in Lucas and Adelaide parting ways. After Lucas was sacked Adelaide’s three assistant coaches and team manager quit the club. Replacing your entire coaching staff early (or more to the point at any stage) in a season is a worst-case scenario when you’re striving to win a championship, however despite this setback Adelaide elevated their performance to another stratosphere during the 2007/08 regular season, winning 21 games and having three losses to win the minor premiership four games clear ahead of their two nemesis teams, Sydney and Canberra. Throughout 2007/08 Adelaide played a free-flowing entertaining brand of basketball, averaging a league-best 87.9 points per game, 6.4 points per game more than the second ranked team – Sydney Uni.
Adelaide hosted Sydney in a double chance semi-final but were comprehensively outplayed, losing 71 to 90. The following week Adelaide overcame their preliminary final hoodoo by defeating Dandenong 74 to 64 to make the club’s first Grand Final since 1999/2000. Sydney Uni’s home court was unavailable resulting in the Grand Final being played at the Wollongong Entertainment Centre. In the 2007/08 Grand Final Adelaide reversed the result from their semi-final to defeat Sydney 92 to 82 to win the WNBL Championship. Renae Camino scored a league record 32 points in the Grand Final to be awarded the Grand Final MVP award. In the Grand Final Phillips scored 16 points – ranked second for Adelaide and took seven rebounds. Whilst Phillips wasn’t selected in the 2007/08 WNBL All-Star five two of her team-mates were – American import forward and future wife Tracy Gahan and Australian forward/guard Jessica Foley. Other members of the core rotation included Erin’s 2006 team-mate from the Opals 2006 World Championship winning team – centre Jenny Whittle, Camino, captain Sam Woosnam and Angela Marino. It was the fifth WNBL Championship for Adelaide, having previously won four championships in five seasons during the mid to late 1990’s – 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998. During 2007/08 Phillips played 20 games for Adelaide, averaging a career-best 14.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
Gahan continued to play for Adelaide in 2008/09 and also played one season in the WNBL for the Dandenong Rangers in 2010/11. During her time in the WNBL Gahan was one of the best rebounders in the league, being ranked in the top five of the league for rebounds in all three seasons with Adelaide and her only season with Dandenong. Gahan was also an extremely accurate shooter, ranking in the top five of the WNBL for field goal accuracy in three seasons, 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2010/11.
Phillips signed to play for WNBL expansion club SEQ Stars for their first (and as it turned out only) WNBL season in 2015/16. Due to an injury to cartilage in her knee she didn’t play a game for the club, early in November 2015 ruling herself out for the rest of the season. Erin commented “It’s an overload injury basically. I’ve had some cartilage issues going on and training (for the WNBA) was hard but I was feeling pretty good. That was the problem. I was feeling too good and at a time and an age when I should be managing it, I wasn’t, I was just going hard. Cartilage stuff is difficult to rehab and I didn’t do it particularly well. I was originally told I’d be out four-to-six weeks and I’m at 13 weeks.”2
During her six season WNBL career from 2002/03 to 2007/08 Erin Phillips played 127 games for Adelaide, averaging 11.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game. The pursuit of a WNBL Championship with the Adelaide Lightning was a driving force for her during her time in the league and as it turned out she achieved this goal in her last ever WNBL game in the 2007/08 WNBL Grand Final.
Career with the Australia Opals
Phillips made her debut with the Australian Opals in 2005 and was a regular in the Australian team for over a decade until her last international game at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where long-term Opals team-mate Penny Taylor captained the team for the second consecutive major championship, Erin and fellow South Australian Laura Hodges were joint vice-captains in Rio.
At just 20 years of age Erin was selected in Australia’s 2006 Commonwealth Games game team, with Melbourne hosting the Commonwealth Games she was able to represent the Australian Opals at a tournament played in her home country. The other members of the Australian Opals 2006 Commonwealth Games team were Lauren Jackson, Jenny Whittle, Jacinta Kennedy, Katrina Hibbert, Belinda Snell, Tully Bevilaqua, Jae Kingi, Laura Hodges, Hollie Florance, Emily McInerney and Carly Wilson.
Australia finished on top of Group A, comprehensively winning their three games against England, India and Mozambique. All of the matches during the group stage were played in Regional Victoria with the Australian Opals playing at Traralgon Sports Stadium, Bendigo Stadium and Geelong Arena. Australia averaged a score of 101 points per game during the group stage whilst restricting their opponents to just 38 points per game. Australia’s smallest win during the group stage was by 52 points, 95-43 against England. In their semi-final Australia played the second ranked team in Group B, Nigeria. A dominant first quarter by the Opals 33-5 set up an easy victory over Nigeria by 56 points 105-49. In the Gold Medal match against New Zealand on 23 March 2006 at the Melbourne Multipurpose Venue (now known as Hisense Arena) Australia defeated New Zealand 77 to 39 to win the Gold Medal.
Phillips was selected in the Australian Opals team for the 2006 World Championships held in Sao Paolo, Brazil from 12 to 23 September. At 21 years of age Phillips was the second youngest member of the Opals team being two weeks older than power forward Emma Randall. Australia had won a medal at the previous three major championships – silver at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, bronze at the 2002 World Championships and silver at the 2004 Olympic Games. Jan Stirling was the coach of the Australian Opals with her first major championship as coach having been the 2002 world championships. Australia had a far from ideal preparation for the 2006 World Championships, only having one practice match against the USA five days before the start of the tournament. Four of the players ranked in the top six for minutes played for the Opals at the 2004 Olympics were in the Opals 2006 squad – Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, Kristi Harrower & Belinda Snell. Whilst Phillips played limited game-time she did play in seven of Australia’s eight games during the 2006 World Championships. Australia won by forfeit over Lithuania in their opening game due to Lithuania not reaching Brazil in time for their game. In Australia’s second game of the tournament Phillips scored seven points, making two of her three field goals and made three assists from 12 minutes court-time in a 40 point win against Senegal. The Opals also comprehensively defeated Canada by 32 points to finish on top of Group A and be one of only two team’s at the tournament along with the USA to be undefeated during the group stage. In the eight-final round the Opals won all three games, however two of them were close victories by four and nine points respectively against Spain and Brazil. Australia won their other eight-final round game against Argentina by 40 points and in this game Phillips scored two points, made four assists and had six rebounds from 13 minutes court-time.
Australia won their quarter-final against France 79-66 with Phillips scoring five points from 12 minutes court-time. Host nation Brazil led the semi-final against Australia by seven points at three quarter-time, however Australia controlled the final quarter 31-12 to win by 12 points, 88-76 and progress to the gold medal game. Four Opals played more than 30 minutes game-time in the quarter final win against Brazil – Snell (38 minutes), Harrower (34), Taylor (32) and Jackson (31), whilst Jenny Whittle (26) and Laura Hodges (21) played more than 20 minutes. Four players played less than 10 minutes court-time – Telly Bevilaqua (7), Jennifer Screen (6), Emily McInerney (3) and Hollie Grima (2), whilst the two youngest members of the Opals – Phillips and Randall didn’t play any court-time. In a semi-final on the same day (21 September) Russia upset the USA 75 points to 68 to end the USA’s 50 game winning streak at major championships.
In front of a crowd of 4,500 Australia won every quarter of the gold medal game against Russia to win in convincing fashion by 17 points, 91-74. Four Opals played at least 30 minutes and scored at least 12 points – Taylor (28 points), Jackson (16), Harrower (15) and Snell (12). With the Opals being in control of the game all 12 squad members played some court-time. Phillips had one assist in two minutes game-time. During the 2006 World Championships Phillips played seven of a possible eight games, averaging 2.3 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.4 steals and 8.4 minutes per game. Despite ranking 11th for Australia for minutes played at the tournament Phillips made an impact with her passing when she was on the court, ranking fourth for assists per game behind Harrower, Taylor and Snell. Opals guard/forward Taylor was rewarded for her brilliant all-round tournament, phenomenal shooting and outstanding form at the business end of the tournament by being named the Most Valuable Player at the 2006 World Championships, ahead of team-mate Lauren Jackson. Although Phillips played limited game-time during the 2006 World Championships it was unbelievable experience to be part of the first Australian senior basketball team to win the gold medal at a major championships and playing in a tournament of that calibre at such a young age held her in good stead for many big games that she would play in throughout her career both for Australia and for clubs around the world.
Phillips was one of 10 players from the Opals gold medal winning team at the 2006 World Championships to be selected for the 2008 Olympic Games held in Beijing, China during August. The two players that didn’t return were Emily McInerney and Jenny Whittle, with their places being taken by Rohanee Cox and Suzy Batkovic respectively. Australia won each of their first seven games of the tournament by at least 15 points to progress to the Gold Medal game against the USA. In the third quarter of the quarter final victory against the Czech Republic Taylor injured her ankle on a drive to the basket and could take no further part in the game and two days later missed the semi final against China due to the injury. Phillips played in six of Australia’s first seven games of the tournament but played less than 10 minutes in each game, in the semi final Phillips played six minutes, making two of two three pointers, had two rebounds and one assist. The USA won the Gold Medal game in convincing fashion by 27 points, 92-65 after leading by 17 points at half-time. The biggest difference between the two teams was shooting accuracy with Australia making only a quarter of their field goals, comprised of 19 made from 76 attempts, whilst in a brilliant shooting exhibition the USA made 33 of their 56 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 58.9%. Hampered by the ankle injury Taylor played 23 minutes and scored six points, only two Opals reached double figures for points, Jackson and Snell with 20 and 15 respectively. Phillips was the only Opal not to play any court-time in the Gold Medal game. 2008 was the third successive Olympic Games that Australia won a silver medal, losing to USA in the Gold Medal game on each occasion. At the 2008 Olympic Games Phillips played six of a possible eight games, averaging 1.8 points, 1.5 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.4 steals and 5.3 minutes per game. For the second major championship in a row Phillips was Australia’s second youngest player, she ranked 12th for games played and total minutes played and 11th for total points scored.
Phillips was one of seven players from the 2008 Olympic Games team to represent the Opals at the 2010 World Championships held from 23 September to 3 October in Ostrava and Brno, Czech Republic. The new additions to the Opals team were Liz Cambage, Abby Bishop, Jenna O’Hea, Mariana Tolo and Sam Richards, replacing Screen, Batkovic, Randall, Cox and Hodges. Four of the new additions to the Opals were younger than Phillips, the exception being Richards who is two years older. Erin moved up the rotation and played significantly more court-time than she had at her first two major championships. There was also a coaching change with Carrie Graf taking over from Jan Stirling as head coach. Australia won their three matches in group A and two of their three matches in the eight-final round, losing to USA 75 to 83. Australia played hosts, the Czech Republic in a quarter-final and trailed 51 to 52 at three quarter-time. The Czech Republic controlled the final quarter to outscore Australia 27 to 17 to defeat the Opals by 11 points 79 to 68. Poor field goal shooting proved costly for Australia, making only 20 of their 70 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 28.6%, significantly lower than the Czech Republic’s 37.5%. Australia defeated Russia 78 to 73 and France 74 to 62 to finish the World Championships in fifth position. In the play-off for fifth place Phillips made three of her six field goal attempts and all five free-throws to score 11 points, ranked third for Australia behind frontcourt players Jackson and Cambage with 13 and 12 points respectively. During the 2010 World Championships Phillips played all nine of the Opals games, averaging 4.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals and 13.6 minutes per game. Phillips ranked third for the Opals for assists behind Harrower & O’Hea, equal fourth for steals, seventh for rebounds and eighth for points and minutes.
For the 2012 Olympic Games in London Phillips was part of a 15 player preliminary squad that played a farewell series against Brazil in Victoria during late-June 2012. From the squad of 15 Harrower, Snell and O’Hea were considered certainties to be selected in the back-court, however there had been much discussion as to which two other guards would join them in the final team. Controversially Phillips was one of the last three players cut from the Opals squad along with centre Mariana Tolo and guard/forward Hanna Zavecz. Sam Richards and Kathleen MacLeod won the battle for the last two guard positions in the final 12 player team. On missing out on selection for the 2012 Olympic Games Phillips commented “I honestly believed I was good enough to make the team. Carrie Graff [the coach] said my shooting wasn’t as dynamic as it used to be – so I went out and worked harder. Six weeks later, during the WNBA finals, I set a record for three-point shooting percentage.”3
At the 2012 London Olympics Australia finished second in group B at London, winning four games and having a four point loss in overtime to France. Australia won their quarter final against China by 15 points. Australia led the USA by four points at half-time of their semi final, 47-43 but were outplayed in the second half, losing by 13 points 73-86. It was the fifth consecutive Olympic Games that the United States had beaten Australia, having also won a semi-final in 1996 before defeating the Opals in three consecutive Olympic gold medal games in 2000, 2004 and 2008. The Australian Jayco Opals defeated Russia by nine points, 83-74 in the bronze medal game resulting in the Opals extending their medal winning sequence to five Olympic Games. In the gold medal game 37 year-old point guard Kristi Harrower played her last game for the Opals, retiring after representing Australia at eight consecutive major championships from 1998 onwards, most of them as the Opals starting point guard. At her final major championships Harrower ranked second for the Opals for minutes played and assists, and fourth for points. Although at 27 years of age Phillips had missed out on selection for the 2012 Olympic Games, she had been extremely close to selection and with Harrower’s retirement she was well placed to remain in contention to represent Australia at the 2014 World Championships.
New Opals head-coach Brendan Joyce named a new look Opals line-up for the 2014 World Championships in Turkey from 27 September to 5 October, only three players that represented the Jayco Opals at the 2012 Olympic games also represented Australia at the 2014 World Championships, guard/forward Rachel Jarry, shooting guard Belinda Snell and forward Laura Hodges. Two of the last three players cut from the Opals 2012 Olympic games squad were selected for the 2014 World Championships – Phillips, and Tolo, the duo both started every game for the Opals in Turkey. Several players that had played for the Opals during the 2012 Olympics had retired, were injured or were unavailable, including Harrower and Screen (both retired), Jackson (injured) and Batkovic and O’Hea (both unavailable). Although Australia were the number 2 ranked women’s basketball country in the world they were on the same half of the draw as the number 1 ranked nation, the United States of America, whilst the third ranked country Spain were on the other half of the draw. In an Opals warm-up game against the USA just over a week before the start of the World Championships Australian centre Liz Cambage ruptured her Achilles tendon which forced her to miss the 2014 World Championships. Bendigo Spirit centre Gabe Richards joined the Opals in Turkey as a late replacement for Cambage. Other members of the Australian team at the 2014 World Championships were point guards Leilani Mitchell and Tessa Lavey, guard/forwards Penny Taylor and Rebecca Allen and front court players Natalie Burton and Cayla George.
In her first game as a starter for Australia at a major championship Phillips had four assists, ranked equal second for her team in the 90-57 win against Cuba in the Opals opening game of the 2014 World Championships. In each of Australia’s second and third games of the tournament against Korea and Belarus respectively Phillips had a game-high seven assists. Against Belarus Erin also scored seven points, made five rebounds and a game-high six steals – equating to a third of the 18 steals made in the game by both teams combined. Australia won all three of their Group C games by at least 32 points to finish on top of their group.
In the quarter-final Canada provided far tougher opposition than Australia’s group C opponents and after leading by only two points at quarter-time the Opals controlled the second quarter 17-7 to set up a 63-52 victory. Against Canada Phillips scored a game-high 16 points, making five of her 10 field goals, all five free-throw attempts, had three rebounds and two assists. The semi final between the USA and Australia was tight during the first term, with the Opals trailing by three points at quarter-time, however USA dominated the second quarter 23 to 14 to lead 42-30 at half-time. Australia kept pace with the USA after half-time with both teams scoring 40 points in the second half, resulting in USA winning 82-70. For the second consecutive game Phillips led all scorers, scoring 19 points, making six of 13 field goal attempts and all four free-throws. In a game in which only 10 three-pointers were scored Phillips and fellow Opals guard Mitchell both excelled beyond the arc – each making three of their six three-pointers.
Australia started the bronze-medal game against hosts – Turkey in the best possible fashion, after Australia scored the first 17 points of the game they were never threatened, winning 74-44. In the bronze medal game Phillips scored six points, had six rebounds and two assists.
Under Opals head-coach Brendan Joyce the Opals played an up-tempo style of basketball and had the same five starters for every game of the tournament – Phillips, Taylor, Jarry, Hodges and Tolo. Whilst Jarry and Hodges played for the Opals at the 2012 Olympics, Taylor missed due to her knee injury and Phillips and Tolo both made the squad of 15 before both being in the last three players cut from the Opals 2012 Olympics Games team.
At the 2014 World Championships Phillips won her third medal at a major championship, having previously won gold at the 2006 World Championships and silver at the 2008 Olympic Games. At the 2014 World Championships Phillips played all six of the Opals games, averaging 8.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 26.2 minutes per game. Phillips ranked third for the Opals for points behind Tolo and Taylor, second for assists behind Taylor, fifth for rebounds and led the Opals for steals and minutes played.
For the 2016 Rio Olympic Games head coach Brendan Joyce retained most of the Opals team from the 2014 World Championships and had Australia playing a similar style of basketball. Only three changes were made between the two major championships with Belinda Snell, Gabrielle Richards and Rebecca Allen from the 2014 World Championships missing out on a spot on the Opals 2016 Olympics Games team. The three additions for the 2016 Rio team were Steph Talbot, 2015/16 WNBL All-Star five member Katie-Rae Ebzery and Liz Cambage who was set to play a pivotal role for the Opals at the 2014 World Championships before suffering an injury to her Achilles tendon in a warm-up game. At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Penny Taylor retained the captaincy and Laura Hodges and Phillips were named co vice captains after a player vote.
Whilst nine players represented the Opals at both the 2014 World Championships and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games the way that these players were utilised by Joyce changed considerably and only two players were starters for the Opals at both major championships – Taylor and Phillips. The three players that moved into the starting line-up in Rio were point guard Leilani Mitchell, athletic forward Natalie Burton and centre Liz Cambage.
The Opals were strongly tested in the group stage at the 2016 Rio Olympics and although they won all five games, in three of these games they trailed by a double-figure margin before fighting back to win. Whilst the Opals were winning their games they weren’t working as effectively as a team as they did during the 2014 World Championships and had been reliant on some individual brilliance in some of their group games. In successive games an Opal broke the record for most points scored by an Australian at the Olympics. In the Opals 89-71 victory against France in their third game Taylor scored 31 points, having a game-high nine assists and made 10 of her 13 field goal attempts. In the Opals fourth game against Japan they trailed by two points at half-time and were thoroughly outplayed in the third quarter 21-11 to trail by 12 points with a quarter to play. Japan were outplaying Australia with their speed, fantastic outside shooting and disciplined style of play and twice extended the margin to 16 points early in the final term to loom as almost certain winners. Australia had a size advantage and looked to exploit this with Cambage and Tolo in the final quarter. Cambage was instrumental in the Opals pulling off a miraculous escape to win by six points, 92-86. Cambage scored 18 points in the last quarter and a total of 37 points to break the Australian Olympic record for most points in a game that Taylor had set just one game earlier against Japan. In their final group game Australia trailed Belarus 52-59 at three quarter-time but yet again comprehensively outplayed their opponent in the final quarter to get a 77-66 fightback victory after winning the final term 22-7.
During the 2016 Olympic Games Milestones and misses published an article to celebrate Penny Taylor playing her 50th game for the Australian Opals at a major championship. A link to this article is below:
Australia won all five of their group A games to finish first in their group two games ahead of three teams that had three wins and two losses – France, Turkey and Japan. In their quarter final the Opals played Serbia who finished fourth in group B with a record of two wins and three losses. Whilst Phillips started every game during the game stage, with Mitchell also in the starting line-up and taking on more of the ball-handling responsibilities Phillips spent more time playing at shooting guard whereas during the 2014 World Championships Erin was the starting point guard. During the group stage Phillips had three or more assists three times including having five assists against France, she also scored nine points in this game. The consensus was that in order to win a medal Australia would need to play more consistently than they had during the group stage and get a more even contribution form their players. The Opals quarter final against Serbia was close throughout the entire game with the Opals leading by one point at three quarter-time 62-61. The Opals trailed by two points with 10 seconds to go and had possession of the ball, a shot by Tolo missed and Australia were defeated by two points, being knocked out of the Olympic Games at the quarter final stage.
Whilst USA were the hot favourites to win gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics the Australian Opals were widely expected to win a medal. Phillips commented on Australia’s shock quarter-final loss to Serbia “Believe it or not, losing that quarter-final was harder than not being selected for London. In Rio, we were good enough to beat Serbia but didn’t play our best. When the final siren went off, I’ve never felt such embarrassment and failure in my life. I really struggled mentally and emotionally after the Olympics. I didn’t want to deal with the pain so I just buried it inside and moved on. I will never, ever be able to get over Rio. But the lessons I have learnt from the disappointments is that not everything is going to go the way you had hoped. You just have to pick yourself up and remind yourself that at the end of the day it’s just a game, and unfortunately disappointments are a part of sport. I use disappointments to push me for what’s next. I remind myself that the lifespan of an athlete is very small and you have to make the absolute most of your opportunities. I often ask myself, ‘What do you want people to say about you when you’re finished?’ I want them to say that Erin Phillips always gave everything she had, whether in training or a final.”4
Career in Israel and Poland
From 2008 to 2013 during the WNBA off-season Phillips played for three European teams starting with Ramat Hasharon Electra in Israel during 2008 followed by two teams in Poland – Lotos Gdynia (2009-2010) and Wisla Krakow (2010-2014). During this time Erin played over 100 games in the Tauron Basket Women’s League and represented her polish club’s in the EuroLeague. During 2010 playing for Lotos Gdynia Erin ranked in the top 20 of the Euro League for assists and three pointers made per game and represented the Rest of the World in the EuroLeague All-Star game. In Round 4, 2010 Phillips was the EuroLeague player of the week, scoring 25 points, four rebounds, six assists, and six steals whilst committing just one turnover to have an efficiency of 37 to lead the league ahead of fellow Australian Opal Penny Taylor in second place with 33. In 37 minutes game-time Phillips shot the ball proficiently to make four of her two-point field goal attempts and five of her six three-pointers. Phillips was part of the Lotos Gdnia team that won the Polish Cup in 2009/2010.
In 2011 Phillips played 13 games in the EuroLeague for Wisla Krakow, averaging 14.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, ranking in the top 15 of the league for minutes played, steals and assists, earning selection as a Polish PLKK All-Star in 2011. During 2012 Phillips played 16 games for Wisla Krakow in the EuroLeage, averaging 13.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game and 1.3 steals per game, again earning selection as a Polish PLKK All-Star. Wisla Krakow made it to the quarter-finals of the EuroLeague in 2012. Wisla Krakow went back to back, winning the Polish cup in 2010/11 and 2011/12.
WNBA playing career
At the 2005 WNBA Draft Erin Phillips was selected by Connecticut Sun with a second round pick, selection number 21 overall. Phillips joined Connecticut a year after being drafted and made her WNBA debut for the Connecticut Sun on 21 May 2006, two days after her 21st birthday. One of Erin’s teammates at the Sun was Laura Hodges, the pair had also been teammates playing for Adelaide Lightning and the Australian Opals. Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault had targeted Phillips as a possible recruit more than 12 months earlier and had visited Erin and her family in Australia. On the eve of Phillips’ WNBA debut Thibault commented “Dating back to Michele Timms, whom a lot of people think Erin is like, we’ve had a history of very good Australian players [in the WNBA]. It will take her a little while to learn my system but once she does she will do fine. She is a good passer and shooter, and one of the best rebounding guards we’ve had.”5 In her first season at Connecticut Phillips played 34 games including 13 as a starter and averaged 5.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists and 18.1 minutes per game.
Phillips didn’t play in the WNBA during 2007 due her right knee reconstruction but played eight games for Connecticut Sun in 2008 followed by 32 games in 2009. Whilst Erin didn’t start any games in 2007 she made 18 starts in 2009 and averaged 8.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 23.1 minutes per game to set new career highs in all three categories, also averaging 2.1 assists per game.
After not playing in the WNBA during 2010 Phillips joined Indiana Fever in 2011, playing a total of 78 games in her three seasons with Indiana from 2011 to 2013. Indiana finished first in the Eastern Conference at the end of the 2011 regular season with a record of 21 wins and 13 losses, after winning their conference semi final against New York 2-1 they were defeated in the conference finals 1-2 by Atlanta who were swept 3-0 in the WNBA Finals by the Minnesota Lynx. Erin played 31 regular season games in 2011, making a career high 22 starts, she averaged 8.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 22.2 minutes per game. Erin set a new personal best for points per game and her field goal accuracy of 46.2% was just below the 46.4% she recorded in 2008. Phillips made 26 of her 61 three point attempts for an accuracy of 42.6% – ranked eighth in the WNBA.
During 2012 the Indiana Fever finished the regular season finished second in the Eastern Conference with a record of 22 wins and 12 losses, finishing three games behind Phillips’ former club Connecticut Sun. Indiana defeated Atlanta Dream in the Conference semi finals 2-1 and Connecticut Sun 2-1 in the Conference finals, in both series Indiana lost game 1 but showed resilience to win the next two games of each series. During the 2012 playoffs Phillips was elevated into the starting lineup due to Katie Douglas suffering an ankle injury.
In the 2012 WNBA Finals Indiana met Minnesota Lynx, in two regular season games between the two clubs Indiana had been defeated by two points at home and seven points on the road. Minnesota had the best regular season record in the WNBA during 2012 with 27 wins and seven losses to earn home-court advantage for the WNBA Finals. Erin played 29 regular season games in 2012 including eight as a starter, she averaged 8.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 22.2 minutes per game. Phillips shot the ball at 43.8% for three pointers – ranked third in the WNBA. Erin’s Indiana Fever teammate Tamika Catchings was named the 2011 WNBL Most Valuable Player.
The Indiana Fever defeated Minnesota Lynx three games to one in the finals to win the 2012 WNBA Championship, the first title in the club’s history. Indiana’s only loss for the series was 71-83 on the road in game 2, they secured the championship with a 86-79 win in game 4 on their home court Bankers Life Fieldhouse. At 173 centimetres tall Phillips was the equal shortest player to participate in the 2012 WNBA Finals along with team-mate Briann January. Phillips played an integral role in Indiana winning the Finals, starting all four games, averaging 13.5 points per game for the series and was very accurate from long range, making 7 of her 15 three point attempts for an accuracy of 46.7%. In game 4 of the Finals Phillips scored 18 points and had eight rebounds to set new playoff career-highs in both categories. A strength of Erin’s game during the Finals was her ball handling and reading of the play to make steals, making 16 assists and six steals whilst having just 10 turnovers. Phillips was very accurate from long-range in the playoffs, making nine starts from 10 games for Indiana and having an accuracy of 51.7% for three-pointers during the post-season.
In the lead-up to the 2012 London Olympic Games Phillips opted to play the entire 2012 WNBA season which made her unavailable for several Australian Opals training camps in the lead-up to the Olympic Games which hindered her chances of being selected in the Opals team and Phillips believed this was a major reason for her eventual omission of the Opals 2012 Olympic Games team. Australian captain Lauren Jackson on the other hand decided to prioritise the Olympic Games and miss the WNBA season until the second portion of the season after the Olympics had concluded. After Phillips won the 2012 WNBA championship with Indiana Fever she commented “It’s a huge relief. It definitely was a very tough year for me personally with the national team. But the sacrifice that I made with them was to stay here and prepare to try to win a WNBA championship.”6 On joining several Opals teammates as a WNBA Champion Erin commented “It gives me chills because the other Australians who’ve won championships are players I’ve looked up to. We want to make our country proud and keep a legacy going and set a standard for any other Australian players who get to play in the WNBA.”7
During 2013 Phillips battled a knee injury, playing 18 games for the Indiana Fever including six as a starter. In her first game of the season in the starting line-up on August 10 Phillips made a then career-high five three-pointers for the game. Phillips made a career-high 47.9% of three pointers during the regular season, making 23 of her 48 shots from long range.
The Indiana Fever traded Phillips to the Phoenix Mercury in 2014, where she joined long-time Opals teammate Penny Taylor and was also coached by a four-time Olympian with the Opals – Sandy Brondello. Phillips predominantly played as a point guard off the bench, however she did start just under a third of the Mercury’s regular season games. The Phoenix Mercury team included three players that were WNBA All-Stars in 2014 – Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Candrice Dupree. Phoenix Mercury’s other starters were DeWanna Bonner and Penny Taylor once she had built match conditioning after returning from a knee injury and played several games off the bench.
Phoenix had a league-best record of 29 wins and five losses during the 2014 regular season four games ahead of the second ranked team in the Western Conference, the Minnesota Lynx, whilst Atlanta Dream led a tightly contested Eastern Conference with 19 wins. Erin played 33 regular season games in 2014 including 10 as a starter, she averaged 5.8 points, 1.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 18.7 minutes per game. Phillips led the WNBA for three point accuracy – making 35 of her 78 attempts for an accuracy of 44.9%. On August 13 at Atlanta Phillips scored an equal career-best 21 points, making seven of her 10 field goal attempts. Twice in 2014 Phillips had a career-high seven assists in a game.
The Phoenix Mercury started the 2014 play-offs as the favorites for the championship and lived up to this billing, winning seven of their eight post-season games to win the 2014 WNBA Championship. Phoenix defeated the LA Sparks 2-0 in the conference semi-finals and faced their toughest test in the conference finals against the Minnesota Lynx. After winning game 1 at home 85-71 Phoenix lost a close game 2 at Minnesota 77-82. In the series deciding game 3 Phoenix recorded a comfortable victory 96-78.
Chicago Sky who were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference with a regular season record of 15 wins and 19 losses belied their seeding to progress to the WNBA Finals, winning each of their conference series 2-1, against Atlanta in the semi-finals and Indiana in the finals. Phoenix dominated the first two games of the 2014 WNBA Finals at home against Chicago, winning game 1 83-62 and game 2 97-68. On their home court Chicago Sky were a tougher proposition, however Phoenix prevailed to win game 3 87-82 and win the WNBA Championship, the club’s third title, having previously won in 2007 and 2009. During the 2014 play-offs Phillips played all eight games for Phoenix off the bench, averaging 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.4 assist, 0.8 steals and 15.1 minutes per game. Phoenix head-coach Sandy Brondello was named the WNBA coach of the year and two Phoenix players were named in the All-WNBA First team – guard Dianna Taurasi and centre Brittney Griner.
After winning the 2014 championship with Phoenix Phillips changed teams in each of her next two WNBA seasons – playing 12 games as a starter for the LA Sparks in 2015 before missing the rest of the season due to a knee injury. Phillips joined the Dallas Wings in 2016, playing 32 regular season games including 12 as a starter. During 2016 playing for Dallas averaged 4.7 points, 1.2 rebounds, 1.2 assist, and 14.6 minutes per game. Erin shot the ball at a career-high 90.6% from the free-throw line – making 29 of her 32 attempts.
Just before the start of the 2017 WNBA season Phillips announced her retirement as a basketball player on 17 May, 2017 commenting “After nine years, two titles and some great memories playing in the WNBA, I’ve now got the opportunity to start the next stage of my professional career in sport. Most importantly, this gives me the first opportunity since last October to spend dedicated time with my young family at our home in Dallas. I’ve loved every minute of my time with the Wings and want to thank them for their consideration and the professionalism they have shown throughout the process.”8
During her WNBA career Phillips played 229 regular season games, averaging 6.3 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals and 20.0 minutes per game. Erin started 101 regular-season games including a career-best 22 starts in 2011 for Indiana. Phillips was a valuable member of two WNBA championship winning teams, as a starter for the Indiana Fever in 2012 and off the bench for the Phoenix Mercury in 2014. During her three seasons with Indiana from 2011 to 2013 and her season with Phoenix in 2014 Phillips was one of the best three-point shooters in the league, making a combined 112 three-pointers from 251 attempts during this period for an accuracy of 44.7%. In all four seasons during this time Erin registered a three-point accuracy of at least 42.6%.
Australian Rules football career with the Adelaide Crows
Growing up Erin had dreamed of playing Australian Rules football at the highest level and ideally following in her dad Greg’s footsteps and representing the Port Adelaide Football Club. As a junior footballer Erin had outstanding skills and playing as the only girl in her team she won the club’s under 13 best and fairest. At 13 years of age she was told that she could no longer play football with the boys and wasn’t aware of any other options so stopped playing football and focussed her attention on basketball.
On 29 June 2013 an exhibition Australian Football League (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. In the lead-up to the first exhibition game between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs a draft was held on 15 May 2013 to select the two teams. Despite knowing that her WNBA club the Indiana Fever would never allow her to play a football game in the middle of their season Erin nominated for the draft commenting “Playing a game on the MCG has been a dream of mine since I was born. When I found out that there was going to be a draft and a game, my heart skipped a beat and I was so excited . . . I have dreamed every night about playing in it. I wanted to nominate for the draft just to be a small part of history and to show just how much the game still means to me. Even though I will not get to play this year does NOT mean I won’t play in the future.”9
In December 2015 Erin signed to play with the Port Adelaide Football Club if they were granted a license to enter the AFL Women’s league, commenting “This announcement is pretty unbelievable … since I was born I’ve wanted to play football for Port Adelaide like dad. For this to happen now is quite incredible, quite surreal.”10 In March 2016 Port Adelaide abandoned their plans to enter the AFL Women’s league and didn’t apply for a license to enter the league, however later in 2016 the club established a women’s football academy. Eight clubs were granted licenses to join the AFL Women’s league for its inaugural season in 2017– Adelaide, Brisbane, Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle, GWS, Melbourne, and the Western Bulldogs whilst another five clubs – Geelong, North Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast were granted provisional licenses, making them the most likely candidates to enter the league when it expanded in the future.
After she had signed with the Adelaide Crows in September 2016 Erin commented on the opportunity to play Australian Rules football “It’s definitely been a lifelong ambition. I’ve basically wanted to play football since I was born, having grown up in a sporting family watching dad play football professionally. Although 31 years later I get this opportunity, I’m just really grateful it’s come now. To kind of follow in his footsteps is just an amazing thing, something that I’m really excited about.”11 On joining the Adelaide Crows Erin said “When Port didn’t get the licence for a women’s team I honestly thought that was it, my time had passed at playing football. Then when the Adelaide Crows contacted me I was just so blown away how professional they were and how committed they were, not only just in getting me to play but how committed they were to the women’s game itself. They want to be the club of choice to not just young girls but young women to aspire to, whether they want to play football or whether they want to be a coach or work in administration. I’ve been welcomed with open arms and my family is really excited that after nine years of being away that I get to play a sport that I love in my home town.”12
After Phillips was recruited by the Adelaide Crows the club’s Head of Football David Noble commented “Signing an athlete of Erin’s calibre is a huge positive for the Club and for the wider competition. Erin has a real toughness and brings years of experience as a professional athlete at the highest level. She has true leadership qualities and I have no doubt she will immediately have a positive influence on our team.”13 Erin also took up a part-time role with the Adelaide Crows working across a number of departments including football, media and communications, commercial and development. Phillips was the sixth player signed by Adelaide, following marquee players Kellie Gibson and Chelsea Randall, priority picks Angela Foley and Courtney Cramey and fellow rookie Jasmine Anderson. On 12 October 2016 the Adelaide Crows selected 18 players at the inaugural AFL women’s draft, with their first selection at pick 7 they recruited 18 year-old midfielder Ebony Marinoff. After the draft Adelaide signed three free-agents, increasing their list to the maximum of 27 players, one of their free-agents, key forward Sarah Perkins went on to become a cult hero. Adelaide’s list of 27 players was comprised of 18 players based in South Australia and nine players based in the Northern Territory which made preparing for games more difficult.
At the time of receiving the offer from the Adelaide Crows Erin and her wife Tracy were settled in the United States of America in Dallas and Tracy was four months pregnant with their twins. . Although joining Adelaide would allow Erin to fulfil a dream and play Australian Rules football the move also had significant risk as if she suffered a serious injury it could end her WNBA career with the Dallas Wings. Tracy gave birth to the twins during early November, 2016 in Dallas, having a boy Blake and a girl Brooklyn. Weeks later Erin, Tracy and their twins moved to Adelaide to enable Erin to join the Adelaide Crows and achieve a life-long dream of playing Australian Rules football.
Tracy was extremely supportive of Erin pursuing her dream of playing Australian Rules football even though it meant moving from America to Australia half-way through her pregnancy. During her acceptance speech for the AFL women’s 2017 league best and fairest award Erin commented “When we were four months pregnant I said can we go to Adelaide so I can play footy and risk my WNBA, I was waiting for a ‘Are you joking’ and you said ‘Absolutely, I know it’s your passion and your dream’. Every bit of this is all owed to you and I can’t thank you enough.”
When asked on ‘Open Mike’ ‘How did you decide who carried the twins?’ Erin said “Well she (Tracy) was a little bit older than me and ready to give up playing professional sport and I was probably still not ready to carry. I try to spend every day staying in shape so I wasn’t ready to give up sport just yet to carry but she was in a good place and we were in a good place for her to carry, she done a lot better than I will, let’s say that.”
On playing in the AFL women’s league during the WNBA off-season Erin commented “It sat really nicely in the timing of the season, my WNBA season finishes around October so when I sat down with my team and said I was going to be playing footy in the off-season, there was a little bit of hesitation and concern, but they knew how important football has been in my life, so without giving me 100% blessing they said just come back healthy.”
After the 2017 season when asked by Mike Sheahan ‘Erin, your sister Amy is married to Shaun Burgoyne, have you sought any advise from Shaun or has he offered any to you.’ Erin responded “Yeah, actually quite a bit, he is a pretty shy kind of guy Shaun, since this women’s league has started he’s actually been really, really involved. He has given me a ton of advise, especially just around stoppages, and I think no-one does it too much better than Shaun, again I am biased, he is such a smart player and it would be silly for me to not ask him for some advice so he’s been fantastic.” Erin comments about suffering an injury early in the 2017 pre-season “The second session in I tore my quad and it was funny after that night I spoke to my Shaun and I said ‘I tore my quad’ and I think he asked ‘how many kicks did I do’ and I said ‘maybe like a hundred’ and he was like ‘a hundred kicks in your second session, are you crazy?’ I didn’t even know you could get kicking injuries, that was new to me. I spent the rest of the pre-season only on my left foot, I had to get medically cleared so the club was like ‘we’ve got to put you through a full session on your right, so it was the last session before Greater Western Sydney where the shackles came off and on the right I went.”
After a week living back in Adelaide, Erin, Tracy and their twins Blake and Brooklyn moved in with Erin’s parents Greg & Julie which made looking after the twins easier and allowed Erin to spend more time with her family. Due to Erin playing basketball all year round and only having short breaks between seasons she hadn’t been able to spend much time in Adelaide since she left WNBL club Adelaide Lightning after the 2007/08 season.
In early January 2017 the Adelaide Crows players held a vote at a team training camp in Darwin to determine which players were included in the club’s leadership group. Adelaide’s leadership group had four players comprised of two co-captains – Phillips and Chelsea Randall as well as two joint vice-captains Angela Foley and Sally Riley who are both based in the Northern Territory. Adelaide Crows coach Bec Goddard commented on the two players appointed as co-captains “Both Chelsea and Erin are exceptional leaders who are extremely deserving of this appointment – I’m thrilled that they will forever be part of the Club’s history. Right from the start both Chelsea and Erin have been great role models for all of the players in the squad. They are elite in everything they do for the Club on and off the field and certainly have the skills to lead the group strongly.”14 On being named Adelaide Crows co-captain Phillips commented “It’s an absolute honour to be able to lead the team in our first season. I was thrilled just to be given the opportunity to play professional football and now to be named as a leader at the Club – I’m blown away. My dad was captain of his team during his playing days and he used to say what a privilege it was so it’s extremely special to be able to follow in his footsteps.”15
Adelaide won their inaugural AFL women’s home and away match on February 4 at Thebarton Oval against GWs by 36 points with Erin playing a starring role, having 10 kicks, five handballs and kicked a game-high three goals to be the only multiple goal-scorer for the game. Phillips played as a forward in Round 1, but received three free kicks for being tackled high and receiving heavy knocks to the head. Having a limited pre-season and not being able to do as much endurance work as she would have liked may have been a factor in her spending more time in the forward line in Round 1.
In Round 2 against the Western Bulldogs at Whitten Oval Phillips played predominantly in the midfield and had 13 kicks, four handballs, two marks and laid four tackles, her 17 disposals ranked second at Adelaide behind 19 year-old midfielder Ebony Marinoff with 18 disposals.
In a thrilling low-scoring Round 3 contest against Carlton at Thebarton Oval Phillips had an equal game-high 13 kicks, an equal team-high six handballs, an equal game-high five marks, laid three tackles and kicked a goal. Phillips’ 19 disposals led her team and only two team-mates had more than 13 disposals, Randall (17) and Marinoff (15). Erin won the goal of the year for her 60 metre goal in the last quarter against Carlton. Adelaide full-forward Sarah Perkins led out of the goal-square, with a tailwind behind her and clear space in front of the goals Erin launched a penetrating kick which landed five metres out from goal and bounced through for a spectacular goal. The three club captains were voted the three best players on the ground in the AFLW league best and fairest with Randall receiving three votes, Carlton captain Lauren Arnell getting the two votes and Phillips receiving the solitary vote.
In Adelaide’s Round 4 victory by 23 points against Fremantle Phillips had a team-high 18 disposals comprised of 10 kicks and eight handballs, laid four tackles and kicked a goal to receive the three votes in the league best and fairest award.
There was a massive build-up to the Round 5 clash between the Adelaide Crows and the Brisbane Lions at Norwood Oval, with both sides entering the game with a perfect record of four wins. The team that won the game would be almost certain to make the Grand Final and would be in the box seat to host this game. The Round 5 game more than lived up to the lofty expectations with Brisbane winning a thriller by three points to move to outright top position. Erin set game-highs for disposals and kicks with 21 and 18 respectively and laid five tackles, however was inaccurate around goal, kicking two behinds. The game against Brisbane was the only game that Phillips didn’t receive a vote in the league best and fairest.
Adelaide lost two thrillers in a row, being defeated in Round 6 by Melbourne at TIO Stadium by two points. Phillips had an equal game-high 20 disposals with opposing captain Daisy Pearce, a game-high 17 kicks, three handballs, and laid three tackles. The umpires judged Pearce best afield with Phillips receiving two votes.
In an interview on Radio Station SEN’s program AFL W Hour of power on 12 March 2017 Phillips commented on her schedule after the AFL women’s season concluded, saying “I fly back to Dallas on the 20th of April. We start training camp on the 23rd and our first game is May 15th, so it’s a very short preseason. It’s also my contract year in the WNBA. I haven’t thought about anything beyond September/October when I finish in the WNBA, but I would like to go around again with footy. I have a lot of decisions to make with Tokyo around the corner, and the Commonwealth Games next year. I try not to think too far ahead. Right now, I’m just enjoying this experience, it’s something different.” When asked ‘How has your body been … are there any injuries that might worry your WNBA team (Dallas Wings)? Erin responded “I never feel good the day after a game, I play up to three, sometimes even four games in a week in the WNBA so at the end of that week I am pretty buggered. It’s pretty similar just playing one game of footy with the bumps, the amount of distance you cover and things like that, it’s probably similar to how I feel after playing two or three basketball games in a week. It’s a tough sport and it’s only after you play it that you really appreciate how hard it is.”
After back to back losses Adelaide needed a Round 7 win against Collingwood to guarantee a Grand Final berth against Brisbane. At three quarter time Adelaide looked to be in a precarious position trailing by seven points at Olympic Park. With the stakes at their highest during the home and away season Phillips and her team played scintillating football in the final term, kicking five goals to nil to win by 24 points and book a spot in the Grand Final. With five and half minutes remaining in the game Adelaide led by 12 points when Phillips put the result beyond doubt, a long kick inside Adelaide’s forward 50 was dropped, however she was in the perfect position, front and centre to pick up the crumbs, take a couple of steps parallel to the goals and kick a 20 minute snap goal that for the vast majority of its flight looked to be going through for a behind on the right-hand side of the goals, however late in flight the ball curled to the left and snuck through for a goal. Perkins and Phillips kicked seven goals between them comprised of four for Perkins and three for Phillips. In the fight-back victory against Collingwood Phillips had 17 kicks and 22 disposals to set game-highs in both categories, took five marks, laid three tackles and kicked three goals.
Adelaide finished second on the ladder, six premiership points behind minor premiers Brisbane and equal with Melbourne on five wins but 16 per cent in front. In the six point Grand Final victory in front of more than 15,000 spectators at Metricon Stadium Phillips had a game-high 26 kicks, a team-high seven marks, a game-high 28 disposals, 11 inside 50’s, laid a game-high seven tackles, an equal game-high six clearances and kicked an equal game-high two goals. Phillips had few easy possessions, amassing 19 contested possessions and was one of only four players to have more than 19 disposals for the game.
One and a half minutes into the third quarter Phillips gathered the ball in the right forward pocket 10 metres out from goal, despite having two Brisbane players within two metres of her she took a few steps away from goal to evade a tackler and kicked a snap goal on her right foot 15 metres out from goal on an angle just before being tackled by Breanna Koenen to extend Adelaide’s lead to 12 points. With four minutes remaining in the third quarter Deni Varnhagen received a handball from Sarah Allan in the centre of the ground ran 10 metres and kicked the ball deep inside Adelaide’s forward line, two Crows and two Lions chased after the bouncing ball, realising that a team-mate could contest the ball Phillips trailed the other three players in, the ball was knocked backwards, a Crow and a Lion both went to ground and Phillips picked up the ball 15 metres out from goal and snapped another goal as one Lions player tackled her and another Lions player dived at her attempting to tackle. Erin’s second goal of the Grand Final increased Adelaide’s lead to 13 points. In the last 80 seconds of the third quarter Phillips provided another highlight, Crows team-mate Courtney Cramey cleared the ball from defense, kicking to the half-back line, Phillips judged the flight of the ball and timed her jump superbly to have her knees land on the back of Brisbane captain Emma Zielke, falling backwards Phillips held onto a chest mark despite two other Lions – Tayla Harris and Nicole Hildebrand also being in the marking contest.
Phillips received 11 votes in the Grand Final best on ground award to finish two votes ahead of her Adelaide co-captain Chelsea Randall. Three of the four judges gave Phillips the maximum three votes whilst one judge gave Phillips two votes and Randall three votes for her performance in nullifying Brisbane marquee key forward Tayla Harris. Highlighting just how dominant Adelaide’s co-captains were in the most important game of the season all four judges had Phillips and Randall as the best two players on the ground.
Highlighting just how difficult it is for a player to win the league best and fairest and the medal for best on ground in the Grand Final in the same season, since the AFL began awarding the Norm Smith Medal for best afield in the Grand Final in 1979, no played achieved the feat of winning the Brownlow Medal and Norm Smith Medal in the same year until Richmond midfielder Dustin Martin achieved this feat in 2017. Below are links to a couple of articles published on Milestones and misses in September and October 2017 celebrating Dustin Martin’s achievements:
In the post-game press conference after the 2017 Grand Final win Erin commented on being part of the Adelaide Crows premiership team “It’s definitely really special, right up there with winning a world championship gold. Just the love and support from the community and South Australia and the Northern Territory and from the football club … it’s just amazing.” Later in the press conference Erin was asked “Now that the season is done how much have you enjoyed just having the chance to play footy?” Erin responded “I have had so much fun, I am very grateful because this league might not have started for another two or three years and that may have passed my sporting life-time. I remember Bec wrote me a note, she wrote us all a note but in mine it says ‘go and have some fun doing something we should have been able to do 17 years ago’. Just to be able to be doing this now and I have met so many past players, Bec could have quite easily played the game, just looking at her and reminding yourself you’re so lucky to be a part of this competition and I am so lucky that it didn’t pass me by really.”
“Even though I would never trade any of my experiences with basketball, there has always been a part of me that has wished to play football since I stopped when I was 13. It feels like I’m dreaming. To be able to pave the pathway for young girls who want to play footy is a privilege. There will be a huge number of girls now who will want to play but would not have pursued the sport because they never thought there would be that opportunity. I am beyond excited.”16
After the Adelaide Crows Grand Final victory head coach Bec Goddard commented on John Farnham’s song ‘You’re the voice’ becoming a theme song of the Crows in the inaugural AFL women’s season, saying “Erin (Phillips) and I really love John Farnham and early in the piece we forced it (the song) on the young girls and they’ve grown to love it as much as we have. It’s quite true, we are the voice of this competition and we had the chance to turn the pages over from a football history that’s been missing with women playing it at the elite level. It was our chance to write the story. We’ve got that little part of history, that we’ve made the best and lasting first impression of season one.”17
The day after Adelaide won the 2017 Grand Final co-captain Chelsea Randall was asked on SEN program AFL W Hour of Power “At what point did you know that Erin Phillips was playing for the Crows, what were thoughts on that and how did she become captain in her first season when she hadn’t played footy for so long”? Chelsea responded “We found out in the early months when she was drafted as a rookie, really excited when I found out, she brings so much knowledge and experience behind her in her elite sport in basketball. We were all just excited to meet her and see what she was like. She is just such a down to earth person, such an incredible person and obviously that just shows through, she only spent a couple of months with us and she just got the trust of the group and was co-captaining alongside myself. That was chosen from the peer group and just goes to show the amount of respect that we have her.”
At the conclusion of the season Erin commented about having no expectations for her season, saying “I haven’t played for a long time. I really wanted to enjoy this year and not take it for granted. It’s something that I never thought would come around.”18 Whilst she may have had no expectations at the start of the season Erin consistently delivered outstanding performances for the Adelaide Crows, playing all eight games in 2017, averaging 15.5 kicks, 4.5 handballs, 2.9 marks, 1.3 goals, 3.8 tackles, 4.6 inside 50’s and 97.9% time on the ground per game. Displaying a wide-ranging skill-set Phillips led the AFL W for kicks, score involvements and contested possessions per game, ranked second for inside 50’s and clearances, fourth for disposals and goals, equal seventh for contested marks, equal eighth for goal assists and equal 13th for marks. Only three players that ranked in the top 21 of the AFL W for goals per game averaged more than 13 disposals per game – Phillips with 20 disposals per game along with Western Bulldogs midfielder Ellie Blackburn (19.4) and Fremantle midfielder Kara Donnellan (16.4).
The profile for Phillips in the AFLW Prospectus 2018 said “Phillips won almost every award available last season. She dominated the stats as the top ranking player in the AFLW. The fitness base that she brought into the season showed, as she played 68 minutes per game on average, more than any other midfielder.”19
Erin Phillips was selected at half-forward in the 2017 All-Australian team and was one of five Adelaide Crows players selected in the team along with Courtney Cramey (full-back), Chelsea Randall (half-back), Sarah Perkins (full-forward) and Ebony Marinoff (interchange). Adelaide had the equal most members of the All-Australian team along with their Grand Final opponent, Brisbane. Erin was selected as the All-Australian team’s vice-captain with Melbourne midfielder Daisy Pearce being named captain.
Phillips went in to the AFL women’s league best fairest as the favourite and led the count from start to finish, being voted best afield in the first two rounds, she polled votes in six of her seven games, the only exception being Round 5, and even then she would have still been in the mix having had a game-high 21 disposals. In the first four rounds of the season Phillips polled votes in every game, including three best afield performances to have a tally of 10 votes, two ahead of Brisbane’s Kaitlyn Ashmore. After missing out on votes in Round 5 Phillips polled two votes in both Round 6 and Round 7 to finish the count with 14 votes and win the AFL Women’s league best and fairest, polling 14 votes to finish four votes ahead of fellow midfielders Ellie Blackburn and Karen Paxman.
The profile for Phillips in the AFL Record Season Guide 2018 said “A prolific ball-winner Phillips has clean hands at ground level, and is a strong mark overhead. The co-captain played a key role in the Crows’ premiership triumph.”20
In the Adelaide Crows 2017 best & fairest Ebony Marinoff led after 2 rounds with 30 votes ahead of Phillips on 27. Phillips gained the lead in the next 2 rounds to increase her tally to 55 votes after Round 4, ahead of Marinoff 51 and Randall 49. After 6 rounds Phillips on 78 votes led Randall by five votes. After 7 Rounds Phillips on 93 led Randall by eight votes. Phillips polled 108 votes to win Adelaide’s 2017 best and fairest award ahead of Chelsea Randall on 100 votes and Ebony Marinoff on 92 votes.
Phillips added to her array of awards by being voted the AFL Players Association 2017 Most Valuable Player, polling 204 votes to finish ahead of Melbourne midfielder Karen Paxman on 149 votes and Carlton forward Darcy Vescio who was the league’s leading goal kicker on 132 votes. Phillips was runner-up in the best captain award, receiving 30 votes to finish behind Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce on 63 votes.
On 4 April 2017 Erin was interviewed by Mike Sheahan on his Foxtel program ‘Open Mike’, during the interview Erin commented on same-sex marriage in Australia “I think it needs to be legal, and not from a selfish point of view, but from a basic human rights points of view. It is (legal) in America. I find it really funny when I came back home to Australia and it is a big deal, because in America, it isn’t a big deal. We are a country that should be so far in advance of this, and the fact that we are still here in 2017 still debating it … is disappointing, especially because the right to get married in my country wasn’t available.” Erin spoke about being a role model, commenting “There are a lot of people who are worried about what other people think of them. Tracy and I don’t worry about that kind of stuff. I am very comfortable in my own skin and I am comfortable in my own marriage. If we can be role models for girls who are gay or straight … in a positive way, how good is that.” Later in the interview discussion turned to remuneration, as a rookie listed player Erin received $8,500 for her 2017 AFL W season, however she could have lost a lot more than this had she suffered a long-term injury, commenting “I was risking $110,000 American contract which is my livelihood, which pays the bills.” If Erin had of suffered a long-term injury playing footy her contract with the Dallas Wings would have been void due to getting injured playing a full-contact sport. Erin said “It also shows the support from Tracy, my career in basketball supports all of us, now my two kids, it was a massive risk but the risk was worth it rather than having the risk of not being a part of this so I sat pretty comfortably with that.”
Erin missed the first two rounds of the 2018 season against Brisbane and Melbourne with a quad injury and Adelaide were defeated in both these games. In her Round 3 return against the Western Bulldogs Phillips played predominantly forward and was phenomenal in a best afield performance. Erin kicked the Crows first goal on the quarter-time siren after taking an intercept mark 25 metres out and kicking the set-shot goal. Two thirds of the way through the second quarter Phillips took a strong contested mark against Libby Birch and kicked the set-shot goal from 30 metres out.
In the second half against the Western Bulldogs Phillips started centre bounces in the midfield and then moved forward, kicking another two goals in the second half including a goal of the week nomination. The ball was deep in Adelaide’s right forward pocket, Phillips picked the ball up off the ground, stepped away from goal to evade a couple of Western Bulldogs opponents including Emma Kearney and whilst moving parallel to the goaline and two metres from the boundary line kicked a skilful right foot snap goal that put Adelaide five points up with 10 minutes and 45 seconds remaining in the game. In the post-game press conference Western Bulldogs coach Paul Groves commented “I would like to see what Erin can produce at 100 per cent with a year of footy, because if that’s her at 65, 70 per cent with her quad, god help everyone.”
Phillips finished the victory against the Western Bulldogs with a then equal AFL women’s record four goals with Jenna McCormick being the Crows only other goal scorer for the game with two. Phillips finished the game with 12 kicks – ranked second for Adelaide with Chelsea Randall, behind Ebony Marinoff with 15, had three handballs, three marks and laid two tackles in Adelaide’s seven point victory 41 to 34. Phillips received three votes in the AFLW league best and fairest and was named the Round 3 Most Valuable Player, receiving 53% of the vote from fans to finish ahead of Alicia Eva (28%) and Emily Bates (19%).
In Round 5 Phillips had some quad awareness during the second quarter against Carlton, and with Adelaide in a commanding position Phillips didn’t play after half-time. At half-time Phillips commented to Channel 7 “I’ve still got a bit of a sore quad so while we’ve got a pretty nice lead, I’m just going to hand back until needed. [I’m] just being really cautious. I’ve got a lot of experience now with this quad. It’s not too serious, just trying not to make it any worse.”
Although still hampered by her quad injury Phillips didn’t miss any more games and was one of her club’s best players in a thrilling four point victory against Fremantle at TIO Stadium, predominantly playing at full-forward she had six kicks, three handballs and kicked a game-high three goals.
After playing predominantly at full-forward during the 2018 season Phillips returned to playing in the midfield for the Round 7 game against Collingwood at Olympic Park Oval. Erin had 14 kicks – ranked equal second for Adelaide behind Marinoff with 15, three handballs, two marks and laid four tackles.
After losing their first two games of the 2018 AFLW season the Adelaide Crows recorded three wins and a draw in their next four games to remain in finals contention with one round remaining in the season. After Round 6 Adelaide were fourth on the ladder with 14 premiership points to be fourth on the ladder two premiership points behind the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, and percentage behind third placed GWS.
Results in the other games during Round 7 went Adelaide’s way and in the last game of the home and away season the equation was simple, if Adelaide defeated Collingwood they would make the 2018 Grand Final. Adelaide started well and led by 11 points at half-time but had a massive set-back with inspiration co-captain Chelsea Randall who 14 disposals and took five marks in the first half being ruled out of the second half due to concussion, Adelaide were over-run in the second half by Collingwood who kicked five unanswered second half goals to defeat Adelaide by 21 points.
After playing predominantly at full-forward during the 2018 season Phillips returned to playing in the midfield for the Round 7 game against Collingwood at Olympic Park Oval. Erin had 14 kicks – ranked equal second for Adelaide behind Marinoff with 15, three handballs, two marks and laid four tackles.
During the 2018 AFLW season Phillips kicked 1.4 goals per game, ranked fourth in the league behind Brisbane Lions small forward Jess Wuetschner (1.6) and Western Bulldogs duo Brooke Lochland and Katie Brennan in equal second place (1.5). Phillips ranked equal seventh for total goals kicked in 2018 with seven. Although Phillips played predominantly as a forward throughout 2018 she ranked 25th in the league for kicks per game, equal 33rd for disposals, 13th for marks inside 50 and 15th for clearances. Phillips averaged five score involvements per game to lead the league amongst players that played at least two games for the season.
In 2018 Phillips played five of a possible seven games for Adelaide, averaging 9.2 kicks, 2.8 handballs, 1.6 marks, 1.4 goals, 2.2 tackles, 2.0 inside 50’s and 86.8% time on the ground per game.
In three of her five games during 2018 Phillips received at least 21 votes in the Adelaide Crows best and fairest, and she polled at least eight votes in her other two games as well, receiving 15 votes against GWS in Round 4 and eight votes against Carlton in Round 5.
Despite a quad injury causing Phillips to missing two of Adelaide’s seven games of 2018 and remain on the bench for the second half of the Round 5 game she finished seventh in Adelaide’s best and fairest on 92 votes. Phillips was successor as Crows best and fairest winner was the club’s other co-captain Chelsea Randall with the defender amazingly polling 162 of a possible 176 votes during the count. Key defender Sarah Allen was second on 129 followed by midfielder Ebony Marinoff in third place on 123 votes. Phillips was a joint winner of Adelaide’s goalkicking along with first-year forward Ruth Wallace with the duo each kicking seven goals.
Phillips averaged five score involvements per game to lead the league amongst players that played at least two games for the season.
In the AFLW 2018 Coaches Association Player of the Year Award Phillips polled votes in three of her five games, being the only player to receive the maximum 10 votes in Round 3, she polled six votes in Round 6 against Fremantle and five votes in Round 7 against Collingwood – being Adelaide’s top ranked player in each game. Erin polled 21 votes for the season to finish three votes behind 10th placed finisher Ebony Antonio. Adelaide Crows co-captain Chelsea Randall and Western Bulldogs midfielder Emma Kearney were join winners of the award, each receiving 42 votes.
Off-court career in basketball and retirement as a basketball player
After playing the 2017 WNBA pre-season with the Dallas Wings Erin retired as a WNBA player and was appointed the Director of Player and Franchise Development for the Dallas Wings.
In October 2017 the Dallas Wings appointed Erin Phillips as an assistant coach, allowing her to work with head coach Fred Williams. After the appointment Phillips commented “I am extremely excited for this opportunity to work with and alongside Fred. He is an amazing teacher with invaluable knowledge for the game and it’s a privilege to be able to learn from him day in and day out. I can’t thank him and Greg Bibb enough for providing me with this next step in my coaching career. The future of this young Dallas Wings team is incredibly bright and I know the best is yet to come.”21 It will be the first time that Phillips has held a full-time coaching role. Williams will be in his third season as the Dallas Wings head coach and his ninth season overall as a WNBA head coach.
2017 will be the Wings third season in Dallas having been known as the Tulsa Shock. One of Erin’s Opals teammates Liz Cambage was selected by the Tulsa Shock with the second pick overall at the 2011 WNBA Draft. Cambage played the 2011 and 2013 seasons with Tulsa, and is a WNBA All-Star. Phillips and Cambage were Australian Opals team-mates at two major championships – 2010 World Championships and 2016 Olympic Games and would have been team-mates at the 2014 World Championships except Liz suffered a right Achilles injury the week before the tournament began. Cambage recalls “That was one of the toughest moments I have been through. She (Erin) was messaging me every day even though they were in tournament they were in World champs. She was linking in and checking up if I was alright. When stuff goes that bad, that really shows you who’s really there for you.”22
Shortly after Phillips was traded to the Dallas Wings by the Los Angeles Sparks in exchange for two draft picks on 1 March 2016 she began thinking about the prospect of playing with Australian Opals team-mate Liz Cambage. The Dallas Wings retained the rights to Cambage from their Tulsa Shock days and Erin contacted Liz about the possibility of playing together. Whilst Phillips and Cambage didn’t end up playing as team-mates for Dallas there is no doubt that Phillips role as an assistant coach played a significant role in Cambage deciding to return to the WNBA.
In January 2018 Erin announced that she had retired from basketball, posting an article on Players Voice titled ‘It’s time to draw the curtain.’ At the start of the article Phillips wrote:
“You know those stories where an athlete announces their retirement and rides off into the sunset, happy and content with how it all finished?
This isn’t one of them.
It’s time for me to close the door on my career as a basketball player. It has been the most incredible journey – but this wasn’t the ending I’d hoped for.”23
On Australia’s shock quarter-final loss at the 2016 Rio Olympics to Serbia Erin wrote “I had never really considered that the last game I’d play for Australia could be the one that hurt most.
We were ranked No. 2 in the world and had high hopes ahead of the tournament. We were unbeaten in the group phase, but after an abysmal 26 turnovers, it all came to a painful end to the 14th ranked Serbians. It was the first time since 1992 the Opals hadn’t won a medal.
I can still hear the Serbian girls scream with excitement at the final siren. I remember the faces of my teammates. The silence and disbelief in the locker room. The tears and the sobs.
I was incredibly down after Rio. I felt ashamed, humiliated and even lost. I didn’t know if I had the energy or the passion to keep pushing myself through more camps, more tours, more time away from my family.
The feeling of regret was not how I imagined it ending. I don’t know if it will ever go away. I try not to focus on it, but unfortunately it will stay with me forever.”24
Erin went on to write “The regret I felt from Rio was also one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned and is a constant reminder that every time I step on the field, it could be my last.
So although I would have liked to have written a different ending, I also realise I’ve been very fortunate to have had a career like this and I will never take it for granted.
I played in two Olympics. I lived in the US and Europe. I travelled all over the world. Experiences that are so invaluable and that have helped shape who I am today.”25
During her decorated sporting career Phillips has achieved many significant milestones and has also suffered some major setbacks, these experiences as well as her sporting IQ will stand her in good stead for her role as an assistant coach with the Dallas Wings.
When asked on SEN Program AFL W Hour of Power in March 2017 “If you had your time over again and AFL W was alive and kicking like it is now when you were say 18 what would you choose, basketball or footy?” Erin responded “Back then, if there was a way, I would probably keep playing football. At the same time, though, I’m so fortunate for what basketball has given me. I’ve got to travel the world and play in two Olympic Games. I’m disappointed the AFLW wasn’t there when I was younger, but I’m really grateful for what basketball has given me and I would never trade it for anything.”
The best thing is that now young girls have a choice and know that it is possible to play basketball or football at the highest level, or possibly even combine both at the same time as Phillips successor as best on ground in the AFL W Grand Final – 18 year old Monique Conti is doing. To reach the pinnacle in a sport is a tremendous achievement, during her sporting career Phillips reached the pinnacle in not one sport but two, first of basketball, followed by Australian Rules Football.
As a basketball player Phillips achieved just about everything you could wish for as a player, being selected in the WNBL All-Star five three times and playing in a WNBL Championship with the Adelaide Lightning in 2007/08. Erin also played in several championships overseas in the WNBA and in Poland and was able to make impact either as a starter or off the bench.
It has with Australia’s national women’s basketball team, the Opals that Erin had the widest range of experiences, being part of a team that achieved something that many people thought wasn’t possible in winning gold at the 2006 World Championships in Brazil. However Phillips also experienced the opposite end of the spectrum with the Opals suffering a shock quarter-final loss to Serbia at the 2016 Olympic Games which was also in Brazil.
During 13 years with the Australian Opals from 2005 to 2018 Phillips role has also varied significantly, most tellingly from the 2012 Olympic Games where she was one of the last three players cut to the 2014 World Championships where she started every game for the Australian Opals and led her country for minutes played. Phillips is one of only two players along with Penny Taylor that was a starter at both of Australia’s last two Championships – the 2014 World Championships and 2016 Olympic Games.
When the AFL Women’s league was first considered a possibility and exhibition games were played Phillips nominated for the first draft in the lead-up to a 2013 game between the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne because she wanted to be a small part in history even though she knew she would be unable to play due to her WNBA commitments.
Erin was able to achieve a lifelong dream in playing Australian Rules Football at the highest level for the Adelaide Crows in the inaugural AFL Women’s season in 2017. Adelaide Crows head coach Bec Goddard and Phillips used John Farnham’s song ‘You’re the voice’ as a theme song and the team including younger players embraced it and the ability to write the pages of history. The Adelaide Crows achieved this in a major way by winning the 2017 AFLW premiership and Erin well and truly overshot her aim of wanting to be a small part of history, having one of the most dominant individual seasons in a team sport imaginable, winning just about every award she was eligible to win including the league best and fairest and best on ground in the grand final. Phillips was a dominant force in the midfield with her ability to win the contested ball and also make an impact on the scoreboard with her ability to kick goals.
There are still more chapters left to be written in the Erin Phillips story and more history for her to create as an Australian Rules Footballer with the Adelaide Crows and also as an assistant coach with the Dallas Wings and possibly a football coaching role once her playing career concludes in several seasons time.
Milestones and misses wishes Erin Phillips a happy 33rd birthday, congratulations her on a phenomenal sporting career and wish her all the best for the future including an injury free run in the AFLW.
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
19 Champion Data, AFLW Prospectus – The essential number cruncher for season 2018, 1st edition, page 13
20 AFL, AFL Record Season 2018, page 1,098
Milestones and misses
In early December 2015 Milestones and misses was set up to publish articles celebrating sportsmen and sportswomen achieving milestones.
Most of the articles on Milestones and misses either:
1) comprehensively cover a players entire career to mark a player reaching a milestone of 100 games or more, or
2) celebrate a player winning an award such as a best and fairest or MVP, these articles comprehensively cover the player’s award winning season and summarise the rest of the player’s career.
So far articles published on Milestones and misses have predominantly been on players from two leagues:
· Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) and
· Australian Football League (AFL)
The Milestone games articles have focused predominantly on two clubs – the Jayco Rangers in the WNBL and the St Kilda Football Club in the AFL. During 2016 and 2017 a broader approach was taken regarding the articles celebrating players winning awards, with articles being published on the WNBL MVP winner, Rangers MVP winner, AFL Brownlow Medallist and St Kilda best and fairest winner.
Below is a link to the Milestones and misses home page.
The article above is the second article covering the career of an AFLW player with the first article having been published in April this year on 18 year Western Bulldogs player Monique Conti who followed in Erin’s footsteps playing basketball and Australian Rules Football at the elite level and was also Erin’s successor as the winner of the medal for best afield in the AFLW Grand Final, winning this award for her performance in the Western Bulldogs six point victory against the Brisbane Lions in the 2018 Grand Final. A link to the Monique Conti article is provided below: