St Kilda midfielder Tyanna Smith receives AFLW Rising Star nomination and polls a game-high eight coaches votes in Round 4

Midfielder Tyanna Smith was brilliant in St Kilda’s 29 point victory against Geelong at RSEA Park on Friday night 19 February with 16 disposals, a club AFLW record 13 tackles, eight score involvements and received a much deserved Round 4 AFLW Rising Star nomination.

Smith started football at an early age, playing a couple of seasons of Auskick and one season of club football for the Beaconsfield Junior Football Club in the Under 9’s and then switched to basketball, playing at representative level for the Dandenong Rangers.

The Australian Football League’s decision to commence a Women’s AFL league the AFLW in 2017 played a pivotal role in Smith returning to play football at club level in the Under 18’s with Beaconsfield. Smith quickly progressed to representative level, playing for the Dandenong Stingrays Under 18’s team and represented Vic Country at Under 16’s and Under 18’s National Championships, earning selection in the 2019 Under 18 AFLW All-Australian Team.

At 17 years of age Smith was selected by the St Kilda Football Club with pick 6 at the 2020 NAB AFLW Draft. Smith has played all four games for the Saints in 2021 and has settled in seamlessly and after Round 4 ranks equal second in the AFLW for tackles along with team-mate Rosie Dillon, behind Fremantle midfielder Kiara Bowers. Smith also features in the top 20 of several other statistical categories, ranking equal 11th for score involvements, equal 18th for inside 50’s and 15th for AFL Fantasy points per game with 80, ranked second at St Kilda behind fellow midfielder Georgia Patrikios (84.3).  

Smith tackling North Melbourne midfielder Ash Riddell in Round 2 at Arden Street

Tyanna Smith’s junior football career with Beaconsfield, the Dandenong Stingrays and Vic Country  as well as her debut 2021 AFLW season with St Kilda is covered in more detail below.

Early life and junior career with Beaconsfield, Dandenong Stingrays and Vic Country

Tyanna Smith was born on 29 October 2002 and grew up in Beaconsfield which is approximately 52 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. Tyanna’s half-brother Ashley Smith played 45 AFL games for the West Coast Eagles from 2010 to 2014, primarily as a defender who provided rebound. 

In an interview on ‘GameFace’ with Rys de Deugd hours before the 2020 NAB AFL Women’s Draft Tyanna spoke about her junior sporting career, commenting “Obviously growing up around older siblings, they played footy so always brought up around footy. I played two years of Auskick and then a year with the boys in Under 9’s. I switched to basketball, played for the Dandenong Rangers for six or so years, that gets pretty competitive as well. The AFLW opened up in about 2015 or 2016 so as soon as that opened back up I jumped straight to my local team that I played under 9’s for Beaconsfield and played Under 18’s for them and just been playing there for four or so years, just moved up in the ranks to Stingrays and Vic Country, so yeah pretty exciting.”

In an interview on the ‘A3 Footy Podcast’ in October 2020 Tyanna commented on the support she received from her family, saying “My parents have always supported me in anything that I wanted to do, really fit, healthy exercising family as well so they always just wanted me to have fun and also keep fit at the same time.”

During the interview with the ‘A3 Footy Podcast’ Smith was asked “Were you still playing footy at school on the oval at lunch or in the backyard even when you couldn’t actually play for a team?” Smith responded “Yeah, definitely, I basically always had a footy in my hands, we had halls in the house and we used to kick the soft footy in between them. I used to play with the boys at lunch time, footy never really went out of my life, that’s for sure.”

On returning to play Australian Rules Football at club level Smith commented to the AFL website in September 2020 “Ever since I was a really little kid, football was a massive part of my life, and I loved it when that opportunity opened up and AFLW began. That’s what I wanted to do, and was really why I switched back to footy, to reach my dream of playing in the AFLW. I love how footy is so competitive and it’s such a different game to anything else in the world. My favourite thing to do is burst out of a pack, running with speed. I also love the moments when it’s close, it’s really exciting. You just have to take the moment, and I want to have the ball in my hands, and I trust myself to deliver.”1 

In 2016 the Beaconsfield Junior Football Club had two full-female teams, the Under 13’s and Under 18’s youth girls, in addition the senior club also had a women’s team playing in the seniors. As Beaconsfield didn’t have a Girls Under 16’s team Smith’s re-introduction to playing Australian Rules at club level was in the Girls Under 18’s team. After playing for Beaconsfield Smith was selected for inter-league and was invited to train with the Dandenong Stingrays when she was 13 years old but wasn’t old enough to play games which gave her taste of what to expect when she was old enough to play for the Stingrays. Smith’s team-mates in the Beaconsfield Under 18 Girls team included current AFLW players Georgia Gee (Carlton) and Tyla Hanks (Melbourne) as well as current St Kilda teammate Jessica Matin.  

Playing for Beaconsfield and the Dandenong Stingrays Smith impressed with her speed, agility, ball-winning ability, tackling and decision making. Smith represented Vic Country at the 2017 and 2018 Under 16’s National Championships, captaining the side in the latter year. Despite not being eligible to be drafted until 2020 Smith’s outstanding 2018 season for the Dandenong Stingrays Under 18’s team resulted in her finishing runner-up in the best and fairest to Jordyn Allen who later that year was drafted by Collingwood with pick 5 in the 2018 NAB AFL Women’s Draft. In 2018 the Dandenong Stingrays finished sixth on the ladder out of 12 teams in the NAB Girls League with four wins and five losses.

In November 2018 Smith was named in the AFLW Academy’s Level one 17 player squad with each player having been born in 2002. The squad had 10 Victorians including current Saints teammate Alice Burke. 

In 2019 Smith played seven NAB League Games for the Dandenong Stingrays and averaged 16.6 disposals, 3.6 tackles, 4.1 inside 50’s and a goal per game. The Dandenong Stingrays finished sixth on the ladder out of 13 teams in the 2019 NAB League Girls season with five wins and four losses.

As a 16 year old Smith won the Dandenong Stingrays best and fairest in 2019. Smith was named at half-back in the 2019 NAB League Girls team of the year and was joined in the team by two Dandenong Stingrays teammates who are also current team-mates at the Saints in Molly McDonald who was named on the wing and Isabelle Shannon who was named on the interchange. Current Saint and then Calder Cannons captain Georgia Patrikios was named in the centre.

At the 2019 Under 18 National Championships Smith played three games for Vic Country, averaging 15.2 disposals, 8.5 contested possessions, 5.8 tackles, 2.0 clearances, 4.3 inside 50’s and 1.0 goal per game. Smith’s outstanding form at the Championships was rewarded with selection as a defender in the All-Australian team, she was one of only four bottom-age players selected in the 22 player team. Two of Smith’s current St Kilda teammates Georgia Patrikios and Molly McDonald were each selected in the team as midfielders. 

Speaking about being able to transfer basketball skills to football and playing footy for Beaconsfield Smith told GameFace “I think basketball really helps with footy actually. They’re quite similar, basketball really helps with the clean hands and the in close sort of stuff. Me and my family still always went for kicks and stuff so it was pretty easy just to transition back into that. Beaconsfield, they have a really successful Under 18 Girls program, I think last year we won seven premierships in a row so it is very, very successful. We have had a lot of AFLW draftees as well with Ellie Blackburn, Georgia Gee, Tyla Hanks so yeah, it is a really successful club, great coaches, great people, great support staff there.”

During an interview with Australian Rules Draft Central in March 2020 Dandenong Stingrays NAB League Girls Under 18’s coach Dave Carden commented on Smith “T’ is a coach’s dream. She turns up to every training session eager to learn, whatever it be. Whether it’s a hard strength and conditioning set or learning a new part of the game. She’s always looking to improve and that sort of work ethic is why she gets results on the ground.”2

Smith played three games for the Dandenong Stingrays in the 2020 NAB League Girls season and was named in her team’s best players in all three games before the season came to a halt due to COVID-19. In her three games for the Stingrays in 2020 Smith averaged 25.3 disposals, 4.0 marks, 7.0 clearances, 6.0 tackles per game, 5.3 inside 50’s and a goal per game.

Due to the shortened season no official awards such as Team of the Year and league best and fairest were awarded by the NAB Girls league in 2020, however it is safe to assume that Smith would have been selected in the Team of the Year and featured prominently in the league b & f if the season wasn’t impacted by COVID-19. A website afl.draftcentral.com.au selected a Team of the Week for each round and gave votes for the five best players, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 in each NAB League Game during the 2020 season. Smith was selected in the centre for the Team of Week in all three rounds and polled 14 votes to be the equal leader along with Northern Knights midfielder Ellie McKenzie when the season stopped after Round 3 however due to byes not all teams played three games in the first three rounds.

In an interview on GameFace with Rys de Deugd hours before the 2020 NAB AFL Women’s Draft Smith spoke about the training she did during 2020 when games couldn’t be played due to COVID-19, saying “Straight after Stingrays me and dad went to the footy oval as much as possible, try and keep up the same amount of training load. Tried to do a bit of different things that I usually wouldn’t get to do at training, more like skill-based sort of things, just try to work on that aspect of the game, more like clean hands, left foot kicking was a big focus and then obviously a lot of strength stuff as well, just try and get the body as physically conditioned as possible.”  

Due to a hip injury Smith was restricted in some of the training she was able to do in 2020 and was unable to compete in the 2 kilometre time-trial at the 2020 AFW Draft Combine.

2021 AFLW season with the St Kilda Football Club

Due to the part-time nature of the AFLW the league has a region based draft where players are able to nominate which region (usually a state) they want to play in. The 14 team AFLW has eight teams located in Victoria comprised of seven teams in Metropolitan Melbourne and one team in Geelong.

Four AFLW teams located in metropolitan Melbourne had picks in the top 10 at the 2021 NAB AFL Women’s draft being Richmond (pick 1), Western Bulldogs (pick 2), Melbourne (pick 5) and St Kilda (pick 6) and it was expected that Smith would be selected with one of these four picks. The common consensus from AFLW list managers in the lead up to the 2020 Draft was that there were four standout players from the Melbourne metropolitan region with midfielder Ellie McKenzie considered the likely number one pick and that positional needs of clubs could play a role in the order that the next three players comprised of key forward Alyssa Bannan, midfielder Jess Fitzgerald and defender/midfielder Smith were selected. In the lead up to the draft Smith was interviewed by all eight Victorian clubs.

The profile for Smith in Sarah Black’s 2020 AFLW Phantom Draft said “Smith embodies the best of both worlds, a hard, contested player with elite disposal. Coming from a basketball background, the Stingray has a neat sidestep, with the agility, speed and vision to extract herself from stoppages. It makes sense the AFLW players she looks up to are Monique Conti and Chloe Molloy.”3 In her 2020 AFLW Phantom Draft Black had Smith being selected by Melbourne with pick 5.  

At the 2020 NAB AFLW Draft on 6 October Richmond selected McKenzie with pick 1, the Bulldogs selected Fitzgerald with pick 2 and Melbourne selected Bannan with pick 5. As a member of the AFLW Academy Smith had the opportunity to train at some AFLW clubs including St Kilda, the Saints were delighted that Smith was still available with pick 6 and had no hesitation in selecting her.

Later on draft night St Kilda AFLW co-captain Rhi Watt called Smith. Early in the call Rhi said “Mate, we are absolutely over the moon that we were able to get you with our pick 6, I think we were a bit shocked that we got you, so very, very happy down at Moorabbin about this pick-up.” Later in the call Rhi said “It feels like we have already had a head start given you have already spent a bit of time at the club, you know, you and Alice (Burke), geez we are pretty lucky, it’s very exciting times.”

During the call with Watt Smith “I am super stoked, I think St Kilda is a great club, always wanted to go there actually, so it is a bit of a dream at the moment.”

After being drafted by St Kilda Smith told saints.com.au of the opportunity she had to run onto the ground and through the banner with the West Coast Eagles at an AFL game in mid-2011 when she was eight years old, commenting “My brother (Ashley Smith) was playing for the Eagles at the time, he would have been in his second season there. He set up for me to run through the banner when they played in Melbourne against the Bulldogs. They gave me a footy and I got to kick a goal on Etihad which was pretty cool.”4 Looking back on the experience Smith commented “That was definitely the only time I thought it was possible to run out onto a footy field – either that or being a female umpire – seeing there was no AFLW at the time, but I was like ‘this is what I want to do’.”5

At the time of being drafted Smith was 170 centimetres tall and 17 years old, she turned 18 years of age three weeks after being drafted and is the youngest player on St Kilda’s AFLW list. Smith was able to achieve her dream and play in the AFLW at the first opportunity available, being one of six debutants for St Kilda in Round 1 of the 2021 AFLW season against the Western Bulldogs, being joined in this category by fellow draftees Alice Burke (pick 24), Renee Saulitis (pick 34) and Jacqui Vogt (40) along with Tahlia Meyer who was recruited as a free-agent from South Australia and Jade Van Dyk who had played 10 AFLW games for Carlton. 

Smith running onto RSEA Park for her debut AFLW game with St Kilda in Round 1 on 29 January 2021

In the rooms at RSEA Park before the Round 1 game former Dandenong Stingrays teammates and current St Kilda teammates Molly McDonald and Isabelle Shannon presented Smith with her debut Saints AFLW jumper with the number 6, matching her draft selection.

In her AFLW debut Smith was one of St Kilda’s best players in their nine point victory against the Western Bulldogs at RSEA Park, having 13 kicks – ranked third for the game behind team-mate Patrikios and Western Bulldogs captain Ellie Blackburn with 17 each, three handballs, four marks and laid three tackles. Smith registered the first AFLW goal of her career in the second quarter after receiving a handball from Patrikios and kicking a snap from 20 metres out on a slight angle whilst under pressure to give the Saints a two point lead.   

Smith about to receive a handball from Georgia Patrikios in Round 1, 2021 at RSEA Park

On her debut AFLW game with St Kilda Smith commented to the Women’s AFL Website “It was crazy playing my first game in front of a really big crowd for the first time. It was amazing to run out with such special girls and to get a win was even better for my first game. It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl so to prepare with the team we’ve had a really strong pre-season. It’s been a dream leading up to it and I’ve just wanted this day for so long. I didn’t know what to expect coming up against women for one of the first times. But I just tried to back myself as much as I could and just tried to take on the physicality.”6  

Smith tackling fellow top six draft pick Jess Fitzgerald in Round 1, 2021

n Round 2 Smith was named the Dare Sainter of the Round for her performance against North Melbourne at Arden Street, having 10 kicks, six handballs, laid seven tackles and kicked St Kilda’s only goal for the game, receiving a handball from Claudia Whitfort and kicked a right foot a goal on the run from 30 metres out on a slight angle to reduce the margin to six points with three minutes and 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter. In the post-game press-conference Saints head coach Peta Searle commented on Smith’s game against North Melbourne saying “She was great, it is good that T hit the scoreboard, probably could have hit again a second time, really happy with the way she’s developing.”

Smith kicking a goal on the run in the second quarter of Round 2 against North Melbourne
Smith celebrating her goal against North Melbourne

In the 29 point Round 4 victory against Geelong Smith had 12 kicks, four handballs, three marks and laid a game-high 13 tackles including 11 in the second half, had eight score involvements and 303 metres gained. Smith set a new St Kilda AFLW club record for most tackles in a game, surpassing the previous record of nine which was jointly held by midfielder Rosie Dillon and defender Hannah Priest. In the victory against Geelong Smith polled a game-high eight votes in the AFL Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of the Year Award, ranked ahead of three players who each polled six votes – St Kilda team-mates key forward Caitlin Greiser and small defender Tilly Lucas-Rodd as well as Geelong defender/midfielder Rebecca Webster who joined Smith in receiving a Round 4 AFLW Rising Star nomination. 

Smith about to kick in Round 4 against Geelong at RSEA Park

From their first AFLW game in Round 1 2020 until today St Kilda have received five AFLW Rising Star nominees in 10 games which is the most of any club with Smith joining 2021 Round 1 nominee Tarni White and 2020 nominees Patrikios, Caitlin Greiser and Olivia Vesely in this category. Gresier finished equal second in the 2020 AFLW Rising Star Award, just ahead of Patrikios who finished third and won the AFLW Players’ Association Best First-Year Player Award.

Milestones and Misses have previously published articles on Greiser, Patrikios and White. These articles can be found in the St Kilda category of the Milestones and Misses website, a link is provided below:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/category/st-kilda/

St Kilda are ninth on the ladder after Round 4 of the 2021 season with two wins, two losses and a percentage of 91.4%, a game and percentage behind the sixth placed Western Bulldogs. On womens.afl Smith has been named in St Kilda’s best players in three of her four games. After Round 4 Smith ranks fourth at St Kilda for disposals, equal first for tackles, first for score involvements, second for inside 50’s and metres gained behind Patrikios in both categories.  

Tyanna Smith has made a sublime start to her AFLW career in her debut season with St Kilda, impressing with her skills, speed, composure, tackling and ability to hit the scoreboard, making her a worthy recipient of a Round 4 AFLW Rising Star nomination.

Article and photographs by Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

References

1 https://womens.afl/news/51864/-i-trust-myself-to-deliver-ex-basketballer-shapes-as-early-draft-pick

2 https://afl.draftcentral.com.au/2020/03/04/ball-movement-and-clean-hands-impress-stingrays-coach/

3 https://womens.afl/news/52583/sarah-black-s-2020-phantom-draft-late-mail-your-club-s-whispers

4 https://www.saints.com.au/news/844689/banner-to-big-leagues-tyanna-smith-s-childhood-dream-now-a-reality

5 https://www.saints.com.au/news/844689/banner-to-big-leagues-tyanna-smith-s-childhood-dream-now-a-reality

6 https://womens.afl/news/58398/-i-ve-wanted-this-day-for-so-long-nerveless-saint-shines-on-debut

Milestones and Misses

Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in Australian Rules Football (AFL and AFLW) and the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). In sport as with life in general it is common that milestones are only achieved after overcoming adversity, so whilst the articles on the Milestones and Misses website celebrate sportspeople achieving milestones they also cover the misses along the journey, such as a player having minimal game-time or spending a prolonged period on the sidelines due to injury. The aim of the articles is to enable readers to gain a greater appreciation of the journey the sportspeople have had during their career.

Links to the Milestones and Misses homepage and the St Kilda category are provided below:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/

https://milestonesandmisses.com/category/st-kilda/

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