• Jayden J Bartlett

Lili Kablau - the Warrior

Sporting converts are nothing new, with plenty of soccer players, netballers, and basketballers, just to name a few, making the switch to Aussie Rules – yet there is something rather unique about water polo.

It is a sport that is extremely tough in its own right, yet Lili Kablau managed to make a mark within it before making her successful switch to footy in 2019.

“I had so many great opportunities come from water polo which taught me the importance of teamwork and leadership which I’ve brought across to AFL,” Lili said when asked about her time in the pool.

“I’ve played water polo since I was about 12, my mum had played so I got involved pretty early and started in the U14s competition as a 12-year-old.”

The pinnacle of her water polo career arguable came during 2018 and 2019 when she played New South Wales water polo – but, since she also began playing footy in 2019, the demand got too much.

“I was playing pretty competitively up until 2020 where juggling both water polo and AFL and soccer got pretty difficult, so I decided to run with AFL and see where it takes me.”

“Having not played AFL when I was younger influenced that decision, my dad’s Canadian so AFL just wasn’t something part of my household growing up. I honestly don’t think I knew what it was until I was about 12 and we did it for sport class.

“So, Choosing AFL just seemed right as I had only been playing for a bit and was having the best sporting experience I’ve ever had.”

During these years, Lili was also finding success in soccer – making her a multi-talented athlete. For instance, she played Premier League soccer from 2018 to 2020.

Of course, having a background in soccer, water polo and rugby, gave Lili an impressive sporting background with many transferable skills.

“I started footy playing because a coach at my school noticed I had a lot of skills that were transferable, specifically my kicking and catching ability as I was a goalkeeper in soccer as well as my power and tackling skills from rugby, which led me to train throughout the latter half of 2019 and then entering the school AFL competition for the start of 2020.”

'Flying High' - image kindly supplied by Lili.

Following school footy, in which her team recently claimed a premiership in 2021, Lili also got her first taste of club level footy with St Ives – which she joined for the first time during 2020 and topped off her debut season with a premiership.

“St Ives has been a fantastic club to grow my skills as well as make some fantastic friendships along the way,” she replied when asked to describe her time with St Ives.

“In my first season, I had an amazing coach who not only supported you as a player but also as an individual and placed a focus on developing you as a person and player.

“The coach, Wilko, is a huge part of my footy journey still and brought me over to Macquarie where he coaches now to help me get closer to reaching my goals. Wilko continues to support me and guide me as a player.

“It’s fantastic in the aspect that we had enough U18’s this year too for the first-time field 2 teams with one in Div. 1 and the other in 2.

“This meant the club had the breath to field both a more social-oriented team, as well as a more competitive team which allowed it to cater to individuals, wants within their footy journey.

“The best way to describe St Ives is multifaceted, it catered to so many different needs whether that was a social experience or for girls like me wanting to be the best player they can be.”

St Ives were certainly competitive during 2021, with the team sitting at the top of the table thanks to an undefeated record – but unfortunately, COVID ruled out this year’s final series.

Yet, while Lili didn’t get the chance to add another premiership medallion to her collection, she was at least crowned as the 2021 Under-18s Division One Leading Goalkicker. She also earned a spot in the PC Academy this year as well.

'The Mighty Warriors' - image kindly supplied by Lili.

As well as these aforementioned accolades, 2021 also saw Lili begin training with Macquarie – which she says, “has been the most supportive sporting experience I’ve ever had”.

“I’ve never felt more included within a sporting environment. Whether it was under the prep for prems program or later with the prems team I knew there was always someone there that had my back.” “Macquarie gave me a sense of belonging and has provided me so much support over the past year, they have allowed me to explore my game and work out my strengths and weaknesses as well as make so many new friendships along the way.

“Macquarie has such a strong community, and the club is building every day. Whether you are trying to get drafted or are their socially Macquarie will support you and allow you to be the best person and player you can be.”

Her AFL Sydney Women’s Premier League debut also came with Macquarie during 2020, which she describes as being “pretty surreal”.

“… After only playing for 1 season to have the opportunity to play in the premier division was awesome,” she said when asked how it felt to make her debut.

“When I first started training with Macquarie it wasn’t really on my radar as I thought it was just too far out of sight for this year.”

“So, after putting all the hard work in to get where I was and working to improve, it was super rewarding not only to know it paid off but also knowing I achieved something that I didn’t think was possible for this year was super exciting for me.

“I was super nervous as I had watched the previous rounds and there is a huge difference in the game compared to the 18s the girls are bigger stronger and a lot quicker, so it took a bit of adjusting in that first game because it sort of feels like you’re the little fish in the sea again until you find your footing.”

“I still had a good crack at it and most importantly I enjoyed the game and the experience and thankfully continued in the prems for the rest of the season.”

'Lili and Wilko (pictured left)' - image kindly supplied by Lili.

Lili, despite having an impressive sporting resume that spans four sports, seems to value the experiences and the friends made more than just simple success.

“By far my favourite footy moments have been out at Macquarie on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The overall vibe has seen it be constantly that part of my week I cannot wait to come sooner,” she said when asked what her favourite moments have been so far.

“A standout, funnily enough, was one miserable rainy night when the field for sure should have been shut. I still have no idea why it’s such a standout, but it was for me, knowing that despite the horrible weather I could still have that much fun showed me I was exactly where I needed to be, and I was at the best club possible to support me as a player and person."

“Another favourite has got the be the lockdown footy sessions I’ve had with my friends, with training cancelled, I made some new friends and the past few months in lockdown were survivable because I never really stopped playing footy throughout. For the past few months, the highlights have been those after school kicks with my friends and the laughs that came with that.

For me, the favourites have never been the wins, while they are up there for me it’s the entire journey that got us there, the hard work that goes into it and seeing that payoff, it’s what I value.”

And this gracious attitude can be further seen when we asked if there was someone that she would like to thank for impacting her footy, and she simply said, “one hundred per cent, Wilko”.

“Wilko was my coach in my first season of footy and has been one of the most supportive and encouraging people I’ve ever met. Wilko is a fantastic coach and has brought my footy to the next step.”

“Whether it’s doing running sessions at 7 am with him or at Macquarie games I know he always will be there to help me achieve my goals.”

So what is the next step for this talented Macquarie performer?

“I’d love to play AFLW one day, which is a pretty big goal seeing I’m relativity new to the sport but I’m loving the sport and just focusing on being the best I can be and hoping that opens doors for me along the way like VFL.”

Starting football late has meant that Lili has unfortunately missed out on the pathways accessible for the younger footballers – but with her strong will and high passion, there’s no reason that we can see as to why she cannot make it to the biggest stage in women’s sport.

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Article #201

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None of these photographs is owned by MWM; all images have been supplied by the player and were personally took.

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