At a glance:
- Renee Saulitis is settling into new life as a Saint after wrapping up her Year 12 exams last fortnight.
- The Saulitis family rented out an AirBnB to watch the Women's Draft night unfold, with the 18-year-old from Warrnambool picked up with pick No. 34.
- Saulitis has already drawn praise from co-captain Rhi Watt and is currently living with teammates Kate McCarthy and Nadia von Bertouch.
An AirBnB with lakeside views, surrounded by family as a pristine spring evening sets in – it sounds perfect. But it's not yet a time to relax for Renee Saulitis.
In fact, there hasn't been much time for that this year.
The 18-year-old from Warrnambool has had to contend with the stresses of Year 12, amplified in 2020 with interrupted study between her hometown and Ballarat Grammar School where she boards. Exams are right around the corner.
But tonight is the AFLW Draft, and Saulitis is hoping to hear her name called out as she and her family nervously wait in the AirBnB they've rented out for the night.
The first round passes by after what seems like a lifetime, then the second, before the weight is finally off Saulitis' shoulders at the start of the third.
She's officially a Saint, snapped up with pick No. 34 to join previous selections Tyanna Smith and Alice Burke, and later Jacqui Vogt.
“I was still in a little bit of shock for a period of time, that's for sure,” Saulitis told saints.com.au.
“My parents both cried, dad as well, but they were very, very proud.
“It still doesn't sort of feel real even though I'm here now and enjoying it, but I'm just grateful for the opportunity.”
Two months have passed since that night, but there's barely been time to process the news, put up the feet and let it all soak in.
Saulitis sat her General Achievement Test (GAT) the day after being picked by the Saints, and less than a fortnight ago wrapped up her final exams.
Just a few days after that, she was on deck with the red, white and black after packing her bags and moving in with teammates Kate McCarthy and Nadia von Bertouch in Melbourne's south-east.
“Finishing exams and going home for a couple of days, mum was saying it wasn't long enough,” Saulitis said.
“But then it's just been straight down here and getting into it, it's been really good.
“I'm used to living away from home though because I went to boarding school at Ballarat Grammar, so I'm not finding it too tough at the moment.
“I've definitely become a lot more independent and learning some different skills that you wouldn't normally at home. Living away at boarding school you don't have your parents there 24/7 and you get to do other things that you usually probably wouldn't do at my age.
“I'm pretty self-driven and motivated as a person as well, so that's obviously helped with both footy and school."
That drive has already been noticed in her limited time at the club, with co-captain Rhi Watt praising the young GWV Rebel's resilience and work ethic.
Prior to the cancellation of this year's NAB League, Saulitis hadn't missed a season of football since starting Auskick when she was five years old.
She played with the boys' sides up until Under-14s, before playing for Ararat Storm in the Ballarat Football League – over an hour-and-a-half's drive from Warrnambool ("thanks dad", she laughs) – and then Lake Wendouree.
Now, the creative small forward – freshly dubbed 'Saladas' by her teammates – will be looking to pick up where she left off at St Kilda in 2021.
“I’m settling in and just easing into the main sessions now," Saulitis said.
"All the girls have been so lovely so it definitely has helped with the transition to Melbourne.
"I'm just really excited and I'm really hoping we can build something here at the Saints, work with the girls and have a great season."