• Jayden J Bartlett

Kayla van den Heever - Talented & Fierce

Injuries may be a part of the game, but that doesn’t make watching from the sidelines any easier. Kayla van den Heever, unfortunately, had to learn this firsthand in 2020.

At the time, this promising South African-born footballer was beginning to carve herself a bright path in footy; when she cruelly suffered a broken wrist that ruled her out for the season.

This had a major effect on the young Western Australian prospect as she had only just begun playing football a year earlier in 2019. Even then, it took Kayla sometime before she decided to strap on the footy boots; only to miss her second season of football with an injury.

Hailing from South Africa and in true Springbok fashion, Kayla originally played rugby before Aussie Rules. She didn’t like footy at all: not even one of her sister’s footy coaches could convince her to give the game a try.

“I was like what is this like 360-degree game where you can get smashed when you don’t even have the ball,” she said when asked about her first experience of the footy.

After she told the coach, “yeah no, not gonna happen”; Kayla went and watched her sister play and, to her surprise, “it didn’t look that bad”.

With that change of mind, Kayla took part in the trials at the Joondalup Football Club where she “fell in love with it”.

This newfound love for football led her to join the Joondalup Jets in 2019, where she finished off her first-ever year of playing by being crowned as their Best and Fairest.

'The Smiling Swan' - image by MWM.

Having hit the ground running with her football, things seemed to get even better for the young WA prospect as she was selected into the 2020 WA state under-16s side.

Kayla, who is also a natural singer, hinted at her natural footballing ability as she was also selected to represent the West Perth Falcons in the Western Australian Football League (WAFL) Rogers Cup competition.

This rugby convert seemed unstoppable, going from local to state footy in 2 years is a huge feat; but sadly, it turned out that there was something that could stop her amazing run in footy—and that was injury.

In her debut game for the Falcons, Kayla broke her wrist which ruled her out for the entire season.

“Well, it was a tough time for me,” she said when asked about this cruel twist of fate. “My heart was genuinely aching watching from the sideline,”

“But I came to every game, every training to stay involved. Being around the girls helped me feel included and still part of the team definitely.”

Kayla was devasted. In contrast to her younger self who didn’t like footy at all, the player she had become by 2020 was highly dedicated and passionate about her game and team: which explains why it hit her so hard.

“I love the freedom of the game, and how you're able to show so many skills in one game,” she said when asked what she loved most about footy.

“I also love the social aspect, getting to play alongside amazing friends and powerful women. I also love how it gives me something to work towards and a way to always improve; it builds character just as much as fitness.”

And it was Kayla’s sense of character that would be put to the test during the 2020 WAFL Rogers Cup season. It left her with a choice; either give it up, stick at it, or work even harder to become better.

Only time showed which option she decided to choose.

'Game Face' - image by MWM.

Kayla is somewhat of a contradiction. On the field, she is fast, fierce and tough: laying crunching tackles and relentlessly chasing down opponents. Yet off the field, she is kind, humble and upbeat: not to mention gifted as she is also a lead singer in a band—but we will leave her artistic and vocal skills for another day.

It is this balance between being fierce but kind, relentless yet upbeat, that helped keep the young prospect motivated during her time on the sidelines. But we doubt even she expected to have the comeback that she had.

In 2021, her comeback season, Kayla finally got to play a full season for West Perth in the Rogers Cup, and it finished with her earning their Best and Fairest during an undefeated premiership season: which makes it an amazing way to welcome herself back.

“It was very empowering,” she said when questioned on her amazing return to footy. “And it made me believe in myself more because of how I stuck with footy even through the hard times.”

“It also drove me to be the best player I can be because I was hungry to play, and that made me fierce on the field I guess.”

Fierce is certainly how we would describe Kayla van den Heever.

In 2022, which marks her fourth year of playing football, she donned the black and gold of the Western Australian under-18s side.

“It’s honestly such an honour,” she said about donning the iconic guernsey. “Like to be playing for WA is such a big deal for me. It’s a dream come true and it’s only up from here for me.”

In her match against South Australia, she displayed not only her quick pace and silky skills that make her reliable with the ball in hand but also her tackling ability: which is outstanding.

Her tackling skills hint at her rugby past. Whether it is chasing them down or absorbing the hit and wrapping them up—we pity the opponents who try to take her on.

Considering she is a forward/midfielder, this means she can not only put immense pressure around the contest and stoppages but can also provide immense pressure within her team’s forward arc. Which makes her a fiercely talented footballer.

'The Fierce Swan in Pursuit' - image by MWM.

She has continued to get better and better after returning from the injury. Now at 17-years-old, she has made her WAFLW debut for West Perth during the 2022 season.

She went from disliking football to winning the Joondalup Best and Fairest in her first year of playing. Then, after bouncing back from injury, she has represented WA at the highest state level and made her WAFLW debut for the Falcons. All this, within 4 years.

“Yeah definitely has moved so fast,” she said reflecting on her last 4 years. “But so exciting.”

It’s been an up and down journey, but it’s helped me become a better footballer and a better person in general.”

Considering how much she has achieved within 4 years; we cannot wait to see what she will do next.

“I would 100 per cent want to get drafted,” she replied when asked what comes next.

“You know when you’re playing footy, and you love it that much you don’t mind what club to go to as long as you’re improving and playing at the level you want to.”

Having an impressive skillset and a fitting mindset to match, Kayla van den Heever does seem unstoppable.

This fierce and talented prospect has already shown that injuries cannot stop her and she has worked so hard to reach this promising position. So, we highly doubt that anything else can stop her as she continues down this extremely bright path.

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Article #231

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All of these images have been taken by MWM.

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