(L-R): Matilda Scholz playing footy, with pet dog Maverick and modelling for Azalea Models. Pictures: AFL Photos/Supplied/Instagram

MATILDA Scholz shouldn’t have been playing AFLW last year.

Able to sign one underage player ahead of the 2023 season, Port Adelaide jumped at the opportunity to sign the then-17-year-old Scholz before she became draft-eligible.

Despite being an unknown entity on the eve of the season, she proved to be one of the best young signings of the year, playing every game in her debut season as the Power’s sole ruck and finishing fourth in the competition’s Rising Star count.

"I feel like I came in and no-one really knew what I had to give," Scholz told AFL.com.au over coffee.

"That's why I think I loved every second of last year, because no one was expecting anything of me… but it's going to be different this year."

Her desire to back up that strong debut season this year means there is now pressure. External pressure, because there is now an expectation around her ability, but also within Scholz herself.

Standing at 189cm, Scholz's height has always been an asset sought by AFLW recruiters, but the 19-year-old is determined to let her talent, not stature, be the reason she is picked each week.

"I want to give them a reason to be like, 'no, she's actually a good footballer, she's not just tall'," Scholz said.

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After an underwhelming season, the Power is preparing to turn things around in 2024 with new strength and conditioning coach Anthony Gallomarino already making an impact in increasing his charges’ fitness levels.

"Flag Port 2024, it's happening. This is why we've got this intense running program… it's the most running I've ever done," Scholz said.

"[Gallomarino] is just so invested in us, and we've just been sent a new program leading into preseason and it's just so detailed. You can tell how much thought he's put into this, and all the girls are like 'oh my god, this is so much' but I'm just like, 'let's change our attitude'."

After seeing the success of fellow 2022 expansion club Sydney last season, Scholz hopes the Power can emulate that meteoric rise up the ladder.

Six new players have joined the club, and former Brisbane AFLW assistant coach Daniel Merrett has joined the Power as midfield coach.

"We're going to have depth that we haven't had in previous years… I envision us as being a bit of a Sydney, just coming and people being surprised, being competitive and getting into finals," Scholz said.

Having such a determined mindset, willing to take on even the toughest of challenges, doesn't mean there isn't a tear here or there along the way.

It just means Scholz, and partner, teammate Abbey Dowrick, develop ways to get through.

Abbey Dowrick during Port Adelaide's match against GWS in R10, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"I remember in peak week, me and Abbey were talking before and I was like 'oh my god, I'm going to cry during conditioning. I'm so going to cry' and she was like 'just give me a dab before you cry'," Scholz said with a laugh.

"So, we were just standing there dabbing at each other.

"But I just feel like it made me such a better person, the whole of last season. I've never had to work that hard in my life and I just loved it. I loved seeing, physically, my progression, but also as a person. I grew up and matured a lot."

Excelling at the top level is something that runs in Scholz's blood. Mum, Peta, spent five years playing netball for Australia's national side the Diamonds, and sister Poppy is one of the top AFLW draft prospects this year.

Her mum and grandmother Bev both grew up in a world without an elite women's football competition, so seeing Scholz reach AFLW level is somewhat of a generational achievement.

Matilda Scholz (far right) with mum Peta (left), sister Poppy and nan Bev. Picture: Supplied

"I feel for my nan as well, they both would have just loved footy," Scholz said.

Best friend India Rasheed is another of this year's brightest draft talents, and Scholz is hoping to reunite with both on the footy field next season.

"I'm just praying to the gods that we get Poppy and India. That'd be the ideal scenario," Scholz said.

"I grew up a Crows supporter… then my best mate India, she's a die-hard Port supporter, loves Port, and she started taking me to Port games two years before I got signed, and now I'm fully Port.”

India Rasheed (left) and Poppy Scholz warm up ahead of an AFLW Academy training session on January 19, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Dad, David, has also significantly shaped Scholz not only as a footballer, but as a person.

He was her junior footy coach, meaning they spent a lot of time together throughout her school years. Now, no longer her coach, they have traded time on the footy field for chats about music and heading to gigs.

"I like [Australian band] Ballpark Music. I saw them a few times, Dad loves them, so me and my dad go together," Scholz said.

"He just listens to, like, good music… do you know [80s alternative rock group] TISM?" Scholz asked.

"He loves TISM, he saw TISM, he tells me all the stories, and I actually really like TISM."

Matilda Scholz is presented with her guernsey by her dad, David. Picture: Supplied

Outside of their shared love for Australian music, she simply admires her dad, and reflects fondly on being coached by him throughout her school years at Scotch College in Adelaide.

"I look up to him so much. He's so smart, he just finished his PhD in Psychology while teaching at Scotch and coaching still," Scholz said.

In addition to adopting teammate Ash Saint's former dog Maverick with partner Dowrick, Scholz also has a special place in her heart - and on her wrist - for her family dog Elle.

Matilda Scholz with her pet dog, Maverick. Picture: Supplied

Pulling at the left sleeve of her bright red sweater to reveal a small tattooed 'E' on her wrist, Scholz had a glint in her eye.

"Elle goes between both Mum and Dad's, the child of divorced parents," she laughed.

Matilda Scholz with the family pet dog, Elle. Picture: Supplied

With long term footy goals of being named as an All-Australian, being part of the first Port Adelaide side to win an AFLW Showdown, and experiencing the ultimate team success, off the field Scholz has some other aspirations.

Recently she started modelling for a local South Australian agency, while she is also studying social media marketing with the aim to work for fashion or arts organisations.

"I was like, well if I can get some money just from people taking photos of me, and I love taking photos, so that'd be great," Scholz said of her burgeoning modelling career, before adding that the agency was a little apprehensive when she copped a black eye on debut.

Matilda Scholz is seen with a black eye during three-quarter-time of round one, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Her opinion on the bruise, however, was that it enhanced how she looked.

"I just thought I looked so tough; I didn't want it to go away!"