Ange Stannett is an early riser, up and out the door by 5:30am to work as a personal trainer each day.

“It'd be nice to be able to sleep in to six at least but I chose this. I chose this job. So, it is what it is,” she says matter of factly.

I joke that she only has herself to blame, a bold move given we’ve only just begun chatting, but she laughs in agreement then warmly asks how I’ve been coping given Melbourne’s many months in lockdown. And that’s what you need to know about Ange Stannett. She’s kind, caring, and up for a laugh.

It’s this amiable nature that has helped integrate new players into the club with ease.

“I love connecting with people regardless, that's a big part of my job, and I take that through into footy as well."

- Ange Stannett

“If I can help make others feel a bit more comfortable, then they're going to flourish as well. If it's going to be an intimidating environment, people aren't going to be at their best and perform.

So, if we can help create a really nice environment where they feel safe and included and welcomed to speak up, that's going to be a massive win for the team as a whole.”

Stannett adds that there is a “buzz” at training from the combination of being around one another again after a long off season, and each player’s superior fitness levels thanks to a hard running program implemented by High Performance coach Kate Starre. But as a personal trainer, fitness hasn’t really been the challenge for Stannett. Coming from an elite round ball football background, playing six matches for Perth Glory between 2015 and 2017, understanding the skills and rules of AFLW was the test.

“When I first started, I had pretty much no idea about footy,” she admits. But as she began to understand the nuances to Aussie rules, and what she could offer to the Freo Dockers’ defence, she steadily felt more settled in the world of footy.

That being said, Stannett has not missed a game since debuting in the Club’s round one win over Melbourne in 2019, and has racked up 25 games, including three finals, in that time.

“I still remember my debut game against Melbourne, because there was actually a big group of us so it almost took the pressure off us as individuals. There was no expectation. It was a pretty new look to the Freo side in general, which I think just helps the mental side of it.”

That game saw seven Fremantle Dockers—including Stannett—make their debut on the field, and was head coach Trent Cooper’s first at the helm. It was also the Club’s first win outside of Western Australia, and their first round one win. Effectively, it was the beginning of Fremantle 2.0.

Fremantle 2.0 has been propped up by a coaching panel that backs in its players, and gives them a level of responsibility for what happens out on the field, and with that, a sense of pride.

“When it came down to training and games it was very much about like, let's just have a go and let's learn as much as we can. If you make mistakes, they happen, they're going to happen in the game. But their focus is more on just doing what we can to have a go because they create this really nice learning and growth environment,” says Stannett.

“And I don't think I would have seen the growth over the last four years that I have done if it wasn't for the coaching staff that we've had, we've been incredibly lucky. The way that they first of all coach, but they bring everyone together and they communicate really well and we know what they expect… I think over my years just playing sport in general, you can have coaches who don't quite get the delivery of the message and that can make a huge difference for a player's development. I just think we've got a great little mix at Freo. And it gets better every year.”

This two-way relationship with the coaching staff is one thing that Stannett credits for her developing role as a leader on and off the field.

“I think the way that Coops (Cooper) implements the game plan as well, it really passes the responsibility of delivering that game plan on to us as players as well. So, it's not just expected of your senior players and your leadership group and the coaches to be delivering these messages and making sure everyone's across it all. It's every single player, whether you're in your first year or you're in your sixth year.”

And the game plan? Well, Stannett has been gathering up her confidence as a defender for the past three seasons, and is now ready to play “with no hesitation”. As a defensive group, the aim is to be more attacking and really challenge opponents.

“I think with the team that we've got this year, the majority of our backline will have this ability to run and carry, which is really exciting to actually be able to share that load. But I just want to make sure that when it is my time to go, I can go,” Stannett explains.

And which player is Stannett most excited to see hit the park in 2022? The same player that every Fremantle person has mentioned: Aine Tighe.

“Fingers crossed, she can actually get out there and, and have the impact that we all know that she's going to have because she's a very exciting, exciting player.”

Gemma Bastiani is the co-founder of Siren Sport, a collective of Australian women’s sports advocates, content creators and fans providing coverage to women's sport across the country. To read more of Gemma Bastiani's work, head here.