LIVING A DREAM

NATYA'S Eden Zanker is arguably this year's biggest draft bolter ahead of the AFLW draft.

Zanker has exploded onto the scene this year and looks poised to transition from amateur footballer to AFLW professional in the space of one season tomorrow.

Starting at the Woorinen Youth Girls, Zanker quickly progressed to the Bendigo Pioneers before representing Vic Country in the Under-18 Championship. 

The strong marking forward finished as the carnival's leading goalkicker and was named at full-forward in the All-Australian team — an effort even she couldn't believe. 

"That was a bit of a shock to me. I don't even know the words to explain how it felt," Zanker said. 

"I enjoyed every moment of it and took it with both hands. Took the opportunity whilst it was there."

Now, after testing at the draft combine, Zanker knows there is still a lot of improvement left in her. 

Natya's Eden Zanker is looking forward to tomorrow's AFLW Draft. The Woorinen Youth Girls ace has enjoyed a stunning rise since returning to football this year. Picture: DAVID SICKERDICK

Natya's Eden Zanker is looking forward to tomorrow's AFLW Draft. The Woorinen Youth Girls ace has enjoyed a stunning rise since returning to football this year. Picture: DAVID SICKERDICK

"The draft combine was definitely an eye opener," she said.

"I got a glimpse of what I need to do to improve my weaknesses and what I need to come up towards: what I'm going to be competing with."

However, she understands her strengths and knows how to utilise them against defenders. 

"I've got a very big stride and leap, along with reasonably big hands. It's a natural talent," she said. 

"So I just use that to my advantage and the ball seems to just stick into my hands."

Zanker was forced to quit football after playing in the Under-12 boys team, due to the rules disallowing girls to compete with boys after this age group.

She turned to netball with Tooleybuc Manangatang, playing for three years, before hearing about the Woorinen Youth Girls.

This is a situation many rural girls face, and something Zanker insists the AFL must work upon to improve the game.

"I think just to give girls an opportunity if they love the sport," she said. 

"I think if more teams, similar to the Woorinen Youth Girls, in these sorts of areas would definitely create more opportunities for young girls to get into the sport."

While living in a small town could be seen as a disadvantage, Zanker takes it in her stride, seizing every chance in her football dream.

"Living out in this sort of area, it's allowed me to take opportunities when they're there," she said. 

"It's given me the opportunity to take on sports and make the most of it."

As for Zanker's hobbies outside of football, the answer makes all clubs cringe with worry for injury. 

"I don't really like answering this question, because a lot of clubs don't like it," she said. 

"But I enjoy horseback riding, fishing and, on occasion, hunting, rabbit trapping — just all the fun things you like to do on a farmhouse, helping out with dad when he needs it."

The St Kilda fan has caught the interest of all Victorian clubs, having discussions with each club at the draft combine, but only one has gone the extra mile — or miles ahead of the draft.

"The Melbourne Demons actually travelled down to the farm, which is about four and a half hour trip," Zanker said.

Zanker said she will be happy just to be drafted. 

"Any club is a start and I'd be honoured to go to any club and I'd give it my heart and soul to that club," she said. 

"It's flattering that they're all a bit interested really."

There is one thing Zanker admits she is dreading, leaving her supportive family — but knows it's not forever.

"It's probably one of the negative consequences. I think after a while I'll adapt to the city environment. And it's not like I can't come down still and visit my family," Zanker said. 

"I think the AFL teams will understand that I'm still fairly young, and I definitely need my family to have my back. So I'm sure they will be lenient towards that."

Zanker and her family have been invited to the draft, and she can feel the wave of emotions as the date approaches.

"I am feeling very nervous, ecstatic. Just all kinds of emotions really. But I'm looking forward to it," she said. 

But while she may be only days away from rubbing shoulders with some of her favourite players, such as Katie Brennan and Daisy Pearce, she'll never forget the people who got her there. 

"Thank you to my family and all the supporters and coaches. I couldn't have done it without any of them," Zanker said.

"The town is behind it, too. It's so awesome to see so much encouragement and so much support from everyone.

"Even people I don't know, they've always commented on the Fox Sports page about me and there's just so much support towards women's football.

"I can't wait to see what's to come."

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