The Journey - Taylah Levy
A young pioneer of GSFL football turned starting shooting guard in the NCAA, this is Taylah Levy's sporting journey.
Growing up on the South Coast, Taylah Levy was one of the young pioneer female footballers in the Great Southern Football League, especially for the Victor Harbor Football Club. Developing into quite a promising prospect, Taylah was a member of South Adelaide's first U16 Girls premiership side back in 2016.
"Don’t take anything for granted. Work hard and follow your dreams, even when people want to knock you down. Anything is possible and it will all be worth it in the end."
However, being quite a natural athlete meant that football was not the only sport that she was making an impact in. Since the age of eight she has been playing basketball, and during this time she has gone from playing in the Great Southern Amateur Basketball Association (GSABA) to playing National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division One basketball.
Chapter 1. The Football Years
Taylah Levy began playing football at the age of five, in a time long before the establishment of the Australian Football League Women's competition--meaning that majority of her footballing journey was spent playing alongside the boys.
There was nothing majorly out of the ordinary during her first stages of football, other than the fact that she was one of the only girls playing football in the competition. Progressing as most do these days, from AusKick to modified rules to minis and then onto juniors.
Yet she was not just gaining attention because she was one of the only female footballers in the area, as she was also finding some success with the Victor Harbor Football Club. She would go onto claim her fair share of awards during her time in the blue and white, time with which she says was "awesome".
"... I loved playing with the boys. I created some of the best friendships through playing footy and always felt like they had my back. Learning the fundamental skills playing with the guys definitely helped me become the player I am."
"The longer I played at Victor, the more girls became involved and the number of female players throughout the GSFL grew."
To put into perspective of just how much of a pioneer she was during her early years of football. There was only a few notable young female footballers within roughly an hour radius of Victor Harbor, with most of these residing at the Christies Beach Football Club.
However, this statistic would not last long. As mentioned before, Taylah saw more and more girls start to play football during her time at Victor Harbor--and this would number would grow exponentially with the establishment of the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) U16 Girls competition during 2015.
It would still be some time before the GSFL would gain their own women's competition, a competition that even this year is still growing thanks to the addition of Langhorne Creek.
But still the SANFL Girls competitions had a major impact on the growth of women's football as girls finally had a pathway to follow--and Taylah witnessed this growth firsthand.
"Women’s footy grew big time while I was coming through the ranks. I guess it started with SANFL and not long after they created the GSFLW."
"I didn’t really get to play in the GSFLW due to basketball commitments and injury but at South it was great to play with some of the best from around the area and then to look back and see how our success has influenced many girls and women to take the sport up."
"The GSFLW now has definitely taken leaps and bounds from its first couple of years, by being able to fill many teams but also the skill level of women’s footy."
"I guess you could just look at the AFLW from it’s first couple of years till now, the profession of fundamental skills and ability to read the game is just awesome to watch."
The establishment of the SANFL Girls competitions also had an impact on Taylah who, as part of South Adelaide Football Club's zone, was recognised and rewarded with a spot in the Panthers program in 2016.
After many years spent being one of the only girls playing football on the South Coast, this midfielder relished the chance to play against and alongside many other talented girls from across the state.
To put into perspective the talent that was on offer during the 2016 SANFL U16 Girls season, girls that were a part of this season that are now playing in the AFLW include but are not limited to; Bella Smith, Nikki Gore, Montana McKinnon, Teah Charlton, Amber Ward, and Madison Newman.
For Taylah, she "really loved being able to play with some of the best from the area and learn different aspects of footy".
"... South was definitely a step up from playing at Victor and it gave me an opportunity to play the game when I had to stop playing with the boys due to my age."
To make things even better for Taylah, the Panthers would go onto build a dynasty in the junior girls competition as they have since won four out of a possible five flags since the competition's inception.
Taylah herself would play in the Panthers' 2016, 2017 and 2018 premiership sides, of which she says the 2016 premiership was the one that stands out the most. There are two major reasons as to why, the first would be because it was her first Panther premiership and secondly, the game itself has gone down into Panther folklore--and still gets brought up by fans today.
"My favourite experience would have the u/16s Grand Final against Norwood when our score was wiped at half time due to having to many girls on the field and we still came back and won."
This result earned extra relevance for the competition following the 'nineteenth man' controversy during the 2018 league men's final series. For Panther fans, the match has been dubbed as 'the day we won the flag twice'.
This is because, as mentioned by Taylah, the Panthers had their score wiped during the second term at which point they held a 45 to 12 lead. However, despite starting again at zero, they still came back and won, 38 to 19.
After beginning her football at age five, she would hang up her footy boots at age seventeen--with the Panthers 2018 flag being her last football moment. In total, she collected twelve years of football experience which was split in the middle as she had some years off due to "doing my knee and having to focus on basketball".
And this brings use to the other side of her sporting journey, one that seems a far cry from her days of playing football for Victor Harbor. But eventually the day came when she had to decide which direction she wanted her next five years of sport take.
"Honestly I wasn’t really thinking about it, I knew that I would have to choose footy or basketball at some point but kinda just embraced playing both while I could."
"It was not until I was 16/17 when I really decided that college is what I wanted."
Chapter 2. The Basketball Life
Basketball entered Taylah's life at a later date than football as she first took to the court when she was eight years of age. Unlike football, where she only donned the colours of Victor Harbor and South Adelaide--basketball has seen her travel all over.
Beginning with the Celtics in the GSABA and representing the Slammers, the latter of which is the association team, she progressed through U12s, U14s and U16s. She then moved to play bottom age 18s basketball for the Strathalbyn Storm.
Keep in mind, while she was busy moving to these different leagues and teams, she was still playing football and studying at school. Understandably, trying to juggle these three things "was pretty full on".
Yet her passion towards both these sports is unquestionable, with her favourite thing about footy being " the physicality and being able to play different positions".
The thing she enjoys most about basketball is "definitely the fundamental skill set that is needed to play at a high level and the ability to read the game".
It is this same fundamental skill set and ability to read the game that began to see her make some promising moves in basketball. Included in these promising moves was the time she spent playing with the Eastern Mavericks in Mount Barker, progressing from the U12s through to the U18s.
She also went onto represent South Australia Country for five years and went to play in four National Championships. Unfortunately however, she ended up injuring her knee at the 2017 National Championships.
It sounds horrible, and it was, but this injury turned out to be a very significant moment for Taylah as it marked a turning point in terms of where she wanted to take her sporting journey. She would mark her return from rehab by making the National Championship the following year, yet the rehab and getting through it was "honestly, hard work".
"... But after doing my knee and the amount of rehab that I put in by working my ass off I realised that it was something I had to pursue."
"It was really just getting film together from games and sending it to college coaches, who then respond and recruit you."
After something clicked in her mind during rehab, and she set her sights on reaching the US college basketball level--she managed to impress further, even despite coming back from her knee injury.
As mentioned before she returned from rehab to play in her fourth National Championship, but she also was named as the 2018 South Australian Country Female Athlete of the Year.
After deciding where she wanted to take her basketball, all the hard work and commitment paid off as she was contacted by Cleveland State University.
"I went on an official visit here and loved it and decided to commit. It was just an amazing feeling to know that all the hard work had paid off and I had made the right decision to take this once in a lifetime opportunity."
Moving to Cleveland USA, to play NCAA Division One basketball and study psychology seems like a massive jump, not just for her sporting life but also for her personal life as well.
She was admittedly "absolutely" nervous but she had her heart set on achieving her dreams of playing basketball.
"... It is something I really wanted to do and knew if I could get through the first couple of weeks/months I would be ok."
Moving from Victor Harbor, which has a population of around 15,000, to Cleveland, which has around 385,000 people, is a massive change to say the least. Population aside, the weather was also quite a shock, but after a bit of a wardrobe change she embraced her new home away from home.
"It is freezing 75 per cent of the year. But Cleveland is good. I’m in the heart of the city and not far from the Indians and the Cavs stadiums."
The people as well helped her settle in easier, not to mention her excitement to take to the court.
"... Everyone is really nice and that helped me settle in. It is pretty easy when we all have the basketball thing in common."
Moving to a place that has a population that is roughly twenty-five times that of your home town and one that actually has snow on Christmas rather than bushfires is a big of enough change, without mentioning the huge step up in the level of basketball.
"Coming in I didn’t really know what to expect but it is definitely something you don’t expect. We practice four hours a day, five times a week. Two games in a week and one off day. Tie in school and all the rest. It is pretty tough but so worth it."
It may be rough but she has certainly made the most of it. On the study sign of things, she is looking at doing her masters once she graduates at the end of this year.
In terms of basketball, she is currently the starting shooting guard for her side. The team itself is also travelling along nicely.
"Yeah we were very competitive last year, this year has been hard due to COVID and having quarantine periods."
The experience as a whole has been a major highlight in Taylah's life, but in terms of matches there was one game in particularly that stands out in her mind.
"... Our game last year in the semis when we beat Wright State to advance to the Horizon League Tournament Championships."
While she has settled into life in the United States, and has found some decent form as a shooting guard and a point guard--she still does miss playing 'Australia's game'.
Chapter 3. The Future
Despite living more than sixteen thousand kilometers from her hometown, the impact that football has had on her still remains.
While Taylah is certainly loving life in the USA, she does still "miss footy like crazy though". But it will still be some time until we see Taylah take to the field again as she still has plenty of basketball yet to play and enjoy.
"I have got two maybe three years left over here and then I will probably come home and give footy a crack."
"Haven’t really thought about it honestly, I have got a couple years before I need to make a decision."
Regardless of what the future holds, it is safe to say that Taylah has had an amazing sporting journey thus far--and even now, she still remembers what has motivated her to chase her dreams and those who have helped her throughout this outstanding time.
"Honestly, all the people who didn’t believe in because it’s only made me stronger and more determined to be successful."
"In the footy world, all the people who made women’s footy an opportunity for us and helped me become invested in the sport.
"But most importantly my family for being supportive of the decisions I have made and the continual support while I’m so far away from home."
So, while we cannot for say for sure where her journey will take her next, at least we know that the next five years has the potential to be as impressive as the last five. Because she has already shown that she is willing to travel far and wide to in order to chase her dream.
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All photographs have been supplied by the player and have been personally shot.