GRADUATING from a Master of Health Science (Osteopathy) one week, starring in the Blues’ AFLW side the next – Nicola Stevens can do it all.

The 25-year-old, who completed her studies last week, said her passion for osteopathy had been born from a desire to help similarly sport-minded people.

“I was first interested in osteopathy when I was in high school – I was about 15 or 16. I was playing a lot of footy and basketball and every other sport in between and I went to see an osteopath for an injury that I had,” Stevens recounted.

“As a young kid you don’t really want to be off the track for any longer than a week at a time. He got me back on the track within a couple of weeks after I had been out for almost two or three months. That was where my interest started in osteopathy, and I really wanted to be able to provide the same for others on that journey too.”

Stevens’ standout debut season at the Pies saw her take home the Club’s inaugural AFLW Best and Fairest award, before she made the move to the Blues. The versatile defender said she had seen improvement in her second pre-season at Ikon Park.

“Training has been going really well over the last four weeks. After the draft we got the new girls into the side and we’ve really hit the ground running,” she said.

“You can tell already that the girls are a lot fitter than we’re we were at this time last year. 

“We’ve been putting in a lot of hard work over the last four weeks and then coming off the camp on the weekend, it was really good on Wednesday night to have a practice match.”

Stevens said a large factor in both the physical and mental preparation put into the Blues’ 3.0 pre-season was the Queenscliff training camp.

“We went to Queenscliff on the weekend for our pre-season camp. It was really good to be able to come together as a group and be able to spend some time together outside of just being at the footy club," she said.

“It was a good balance of some physical challenges and some fun along the way. We did a few beach sessions and a few fitness sessions. On the Sunday we were able to have a run around on the Queenscliff oval there and put some of our structure into practice.  

“It was really good to get away as a group, especially just before Christmas, and I think that reflected well as a team on the ground [on Wednesday night] in our practice game. 

With a number of new Blues now settled in, Stevens said she had been impressed by the talent displayed by the trade and draft arrivals. 

“The new girls are settling in really well – in particular the girls that played VFL, particularly Chloe (Dalton) and Brooke (Walker). The young girls are just really keen to learn," she said.

"They’ve been awesome and have showcased what skills they can bring to the team. The likes of Emerson Woods  as well – she’s so fast and talented and it’s really exciting to see so many young kids being able to find their way and their place at the Club.”

Changes at Ikon Park weren’t limited to the playing group, with a number of coaching and football staff changes taking place following the 2018 season.

Daniel Harford was appointed as senior coach in April this year, leading new assistant coaches Steven Salopek (defenders), Shannon McFerran (senior assistant coach and midfield) and Brad Fisher (forwards).  

Stevens said she was rapt with the group.

“Our coaching group has really taken it away and 'Harf' (Harford) has been really awesome. He takes the time to understand the girls on a deeper level,” she said.

“I think that translates on amongst the rest of the coaching group and the staff as well. Our backline coach 'Sal' (Steven Salopek) has been awesome and has been super helpful - really, everyone is ready to give up their time do whatever they can to make us better footballers and better people. That’s something I’ve really noticed in the last few weeks."

Time in the backline was not only enhanced by the introduction of Salopek also but the return of skipper Brianna Davey, who spent most of the 2018 season sidelined with an ACL injury.

The 174cm defender said she was thrilled be playing alongside Davey again. 

“There’s nothing more that I enjoy than having Bri there next to me and playing alongside me. It’s a credit to her that she’s done everything she possibly can in her rehab and I look at her and watch her at training and you just wouldn’t even know any different. She is just settling in so nicely,” she said.

“She looks really comfortable and confident within her body and on the ground as well so it’s awesome to see her back.”

With a promising start to the pre-season, Stevens expectations for AFLW 3.0 are high. 

Despite this, she said while she was looking forward to a short break before heading back to Ikon Park in the new year, she said the hard work won’t stop. 

“We’re back at training on the third of January, so it’s a short break but I think this period of time is really important that we keep up the hard yards that we’ve already put in given as soon as we come back we have a practice match," she said.

“I think over Christmas and the new year break I’ll head to Phillip Island for a couple of days, but most of those days will be training days.”