Jess Wuetschner speaks to her players during the All-Stars' clash against the Marsh AFL National Academy Girls on June 9, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

DURING Jess Wuetschner's playing career, she enjoyed the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. But all those experiences have set her up for her next step in footy as Tasmania's girls talent pathway coach.

"I think I have a real empathy around people's wellbeing and life outside of football and things that they might be going through," Wuetschner said on The Heart of it podcast.

"Having that understanding that football isn't everything allows me to be a better coach for them, because I'm not just there to teach them how to play football, I'm there for them in any way that they need."

Now the head coach of the Tasmania Devils U16 and U18 state talent programs, Wuetschner played 55 games across two AFLW clubs, including winning a flag in 2021 with Brisbane.

It wasn't without some serious challenges that, although largely off-field concerns, greatly impacted her performance on it.

In her AFLW debut, back in round one, 2017, Wuetschner's Lions claimed a win over Melbourne in a game that was delayed by lightning.

Jess Wuetschner in action during Brisbane's clash against Melbourne in round one, 2017. Picture: AFL Photos

"A bit ironic for me," she said.

In early 2020 as Wuetschner was preparing for her fourth season at the Lions, she was struck by lightning while working her non-footy job as a stevedore.

"We were meant to have a (pre-season) game against Gold Coast down on the Gold Coast, but it got called off because of the weather, and I got called into work," Wuetschner explained.

Her work involved getting into a metal cage and being lifted by crane atop container ships, and although the weather was deemed bad enough to call off her footy match, it wasn't enough to stop work on the docks.

Jess Wuetschner after being appointed senior coach of Coates Talent League girls' side Tassie Devils. Picture: AFL Tasmania

"The weather came in and it was sideways rain, the wind was so heavy that sometimes the sirens were going off, but they weren't going off long enough for them to abandon work apparently. And there was a bit of lightning a bit further in the distance," she said.

"I did express my concern about going up into the crib at the time."

But, sitting low in the chain of command, work was to go ahead.

"I just sort of did my job, went up there, and was unfortunately in a position where the lightning struck the aluminium pole I was holding," Wuetschner said.

Rodney Eade and Jess Wuetschner during a media opportunity announcing the details for the Tasmanian AFL team on March 18, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Wearing rubber gloves and boots, while also suspended in the air, was literally lifesaving, but it took nearly 40 minutes for Wuetschner to get back on the ground and into an ambulance.

"I saw white/blue flashes of electricity, lightning go over my arms, sort of up over my body, and then I went into an absolute state of shock. Physically, obviously, I was OK in the end, but I genuinely thought I was going to die," Wuetschner admitted.

Although physically OK, the ongoing effects to her mental health continue.

"Pretty severe PTSD, I've been living with generalised anxiety disorder since then, which has had a huge impact on my life. It's changed my personality," Wuetschner said.

"It's been a really huge cause of a lot of issues and things that I've had to change in my life."

Getting back on the footy field was another matter for the star forward. To that point, Wuetschner had played every possible game for the Lions, existing as a staple in the side's structure. That became untenable after the incident.

Jess Wuetschner in action during a clash between Brisbane and GWS on March 1, 2020. Picture: Getty Images

"I ended up playing round one (of 2020) and then had an absolute mental breakdown post that game, ended up in hospital and from then on was just a ball of absolute anxiety," Wuetschner explained.

"I probably haven't played my best since the incident if I'm being honest. Sort of got through that season, and then into the next season where we won the premiership, I didn't make the team in the first couple of rounds. Worked my way back into the team and obviously got to play on the big day."

But that premiership win didn't mean everything was smooth sailing from there. In fact, it only became more difficult for Wuetschner to navigate her playing career. Heading into her sixth season early in 2022, her mental health became a serious concern.

"I played the first three games of the season, then didn't play for the rest of the season and took some time away… I was pretty adamant that I wasn't going to play for the rest of the season because I just needed to get myself in a better place mentally. Which I did," she said.

"Then the season finished… it ended up being that I was getting delisted which was pretty hard to take."

Jess Wuetschner celebrates a goal during Brisbane's clash against Carlton in round three, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

With the door at Brisbane closed, Wuetschner made the move to Victoria to be part of Essendon's inaugural side later that same year.

It was a move worthwhile for both player and club, with her experience and talent essential in setting up the Bombers' young list, while also getting her name in the record books for kicking the club's first AFLW goal.

"I just chucked it on the left boot, snap, and scored the first goal and the crowd went, like, insane. I wish I could have lived in that moment for a lot longer," Wuetschner said.


After retiring last year, her shift from player to coach was a planned one, but not necessarily in the way it ultimately played out. Already in an assistant coaching role in Victoria, the opportunity to return to her home state of Tasmania came "out of the blue".

"The more I thought about it, the more I thought the opportunity was just too big not to take up," Wuetschner said.

With Tasmania set to join the AFL 2028, an AFLW team is expected to follow soon after, and in her role developing the best young talent in the state, Wuetschner's impact on the AFLW is likely to only grow.