A CONCERTED effort to improve her versatility is the secret behind Lauren Pearce's stunning year of football.
The Melbourne ruck was named All Australian after the 2019 NAB AFLW season and, more recently, was crowned the Lambert-Pearce medallist as the VFLW's best and fairest (playing for Darebin).
Pearce, a former basketballer, already has a strong natural leap but has been working on her game around the ground.
The 26-year-old averaged 33 hitouts and an impressive 19 disposals from her 10 VFLW games.
"I've been trying to work on every aspect of my game, I've done a lot of training with 'Staff' (Greg Stafford) at Melbourne with ruck work, starting from basics and being able to put that in," Pearce said.
"I'm being taught what everyone else is doing (like) groundballs, I'm not necessarily taken out of every drill to be able to do tapping.
"I love doing all the groundwork, because how good is it to be versatile? You don't want to just tap in the air and do nothing else, you want to be able to touch the ball. The fact you have first touch, how bloody brilliant is that? I love it."
Pearce has received permission from Melbourne's hierarchy to play her VFLW footy with her original club in Darebin instead of the Demons' affiliate Casey for the past two seasons, provided she keeps both sides fully informed of her physical and mental fitness.
Since the end of Darebin's season three weeks ago, Pearce has undergone a clean-out operation for her right knee, but is hoping to be fully fit in time for the start of the AFLW pre-season in November.
"It's nothing too serious, I just need to recover now and look after myself, but I'll be right for pre-season," she said.
"I think it's better doing it now than coming into pre-season and something flaring up. It's more of a precaution. I may have been able to push through it, but you never know what [could] happen."
Having joined Darebin without knowing how to play the game, Pearce has now come full circle, helping out her Falcons teammates improve their own skills.
"When I first started, I couldn't kick a football. I was terrible, kicking the ball along the ground with mates, sitting on the sideline, thinking, 'what the hell am I doing?'," Pearce said.
"[I was] able to ask questions of Daisy (Pearce, no relation), (Melissa) Hickey, 'Paxy' (Karen Paxman) and all that. Knowing that's where I started, if girls come and ask me if I can tap a ball down, bloody oath, I will not hesitate once, because I know that's where I started and that's how they will get their skills from."
Darebin is proudly a community club with elite playing standards, and it can feel some way from the world of AFLW. Pearce takes it upon herself to fill the water bottles before games.
"I think every single player has family involvement. My mum is an umpire escort and walks out every single game, (both) before it and at half time, gives them their water," she said.
"I think that's more special and you appreciate the game more when you have that involvement. When you have to be involved in pre-game stuff, filling up water bottles, it's not that you get asked, you just do it because you know that's the role you need to partake in.
"I'm not the only one who does it, all the other girls do [jobs] and they appreciate the roles we have to take in order to play. You can't just take [playing] for granted."