CARLTON defender Charlotte Wilson has an apt way of describing her quick ascent from unproven youngster to established defensive regular at Ikon Park.
"They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I also think it takes a village to raise an athlete," Wilson told womens.afl.
For the talented 20-year-old, that 'village' is the experienced Carlton backline around her. Together, they have provided the perfect buffer for Wilson to learn her craft and rapidly become one of the League's most valuable intercept defenders.
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"They've had a huge influence. Kerryn Harrington, Gab Pound, Mua Laloifi, Natalie Plane … they're all inspiring players, who have a lot to provide to the group," Wilson said.
"Kez, in particular, is really good. She'll go through extra vision with you and give you learning points, but she'll also tell you to pull your head in if she needs to as well. She's always telling me to focus and reset and concentrate on the things that are important.
"Gab is another who is a really experienced player who has been playing for quite a while now. She's always got little technical things to show you. In the backline, whether it's something as simple as standing side-on so you can see the play and your player. She's good at giving little reminders that help you switch on and stay in the moment.
"I'm really grateful to have them as teammates."
That collection of Carlton defenders have allowed Wilson to settle comfortably into a cohesive backline. Despite being in just her third season, she has now played 15 of 16 games since her debut back in 2019 and is already one of the team's most important players.
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Able to effectively shut down some of the opposition's best key forwards, Wilson is just as adept at drifting away and intercepting. That was perhaps never as important as in the final stages of Saturday's thrilling victory over Richmond, where she got first hands to a number of aerial contests as the Tigers peppered for a late goal.
But despite being ranked No.1 at the club for marks per game last season, her seemingly innate ability to intercept has come anything but naturally to her.
"Learning to read the play and understand where the ball is going is something that I've been trying to work on for years now," Wilson said.
"I do remember in under-18s when I was playing NAB League, I was playing with a girl who was a defender who would always get intercept marks. I remember asking her how she did this and she always said she didn't know and that it just happened. I was so jealous.
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"It just comes from watching vision and ultimately from just playing. Then you start to learn how people move on the field and how they can kick and where your player is … a whole lot of factors come into it.
"It's hard, it's very hard, because you're taking a gamble every time you go for it. Do you go and mark the ball? Or do you stay on your player? It's a huge debate that every defender would understand."
Wilson will undoubtedly have that debate numerous times this Saturday night, when Carlton meets one of the AFLW's flag fancies North Melbourne in a highly anticipated encounter at the University of Tasmania Stadium.
For the Blues, it's the perfect opportunity to get one over a Kangaroos team they were meant to face in last year's preliminary finals – before the season was abruptly cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was a long time ago now," Wilson said.
"We were meant to play them, but this season is a new season. It's a clean slate. If we start thinking too much about how good we were last year, then we could get ourselves in a bit of trouble.
"We've just got to take it week by week and see how we go. We've got to work hard and we'll see what the end result is."
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