AFTER a week of discussion, Sydney has officially selected tall midfielder Montana Ham with the first selection in the 2022 NAB AFLW Draft.
The Western Jets product sent shockwaves through the Victorian clubs when she chose to nominate New South Wales in the state-based draft, which is implemented to allow players to remain in their home state for work and study outside of the part-time football program.
At 180cm, Ham stands alongside some AFLW rucks, and has the attributes to sit right at home in the forward line if required.
The 18-year-old is a lovely mark of the footy, reads the play well, and is difficult to stop when she wheels out of a stoppage around the ground.
A number of Victorian clubs at the top end of the draft were particularly aggrieved with Sydney approaching both Ham and fellow top prospect Sofia Hurley, but she's not the first No.1 pick to have switched states, following last year's decision of Charlie Rowbottom to go to Gold Coast.
With the upcoming season starting in August, Ham, 18, will have to get stuck into her first AFLW campaign, travelling back and forth across the border, while dealing with the toughest year of school.
"It’s been a flood of emotions, but I’m very excited for the future," she said.
"I’m really looking forward to getting to Sydney and meeting my teammates.
"I’ve got to find the right balance with school and footy, but I’ll be heading up to Sydney for three weeks while I’m on school holidays and doing as much training as I can."
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Ham was confident she could juggle her competing commitments.
"Throughout the week I’ll be at school, and then on the weekends I’ll go and train as much with Sydney who have been awesome with their support around me and do everything they can to help me," she said.
"They’ve got a great list … I’m really looking forward to getting down there and meeting them."
Ham, who said her mother would stay in Melbourne while she travels, plans to study exercise and sport science at UTS next year but was particularly keen to live by the water in Sydney.
"The water’s a big part of who I was growing up, I always went down to the coast for surfing," she said.
"Being able to live 20 minutes from the beach is something I’m really looking forward to.
"It’s a bit daunting (to move away) - a new challenge for me but I have a lot of good people around me and a good support network. I’m absolutely thrilled."
Ham's manager Alex Saundry has said she made the decision to assist with uni (she wishes to study physiotherapy), as well as lifestyle reasons.
Ham has been in the Western Jets program since she was just 13, having started her footy at Hillside and later moving to Keilor in order to switch to girls' footy.
While she has dabbled in basketball, netball and even nippers (junior surf skills program), football has always been Ham's primary focus.
She has earned numerous awards for her football this year, including Vic Metro MVP at the NAB AFLW Under-18 Championships, selection in the Under-18 All Australian team and named best afield for the NAB AFLW Academy side in its clash against an Under-23 All Stars team.