A Columbus Jillaroos practice often starts with a formal introduction of players.

A Columbus Jillaroos practice often starts with a formal introduction of players.

The Australian rules football team comes together in a circle and tries to put names with an ever-growing list of faces. The Jillaroos are Columbus' first entry into the U.S.-based Women's Australia Football Association. It is also thought to be the first women's Australian rules football team to form in Columbus.

They have been practicing twice a week for little over a month, and there is always a new face.

"The field is giant," said Jamie Harvey, a Galloway resident and the Jillaroos' vice president. "It really helps to know names instead of yelling, 'Hey.' The past couple of practices there has been somebody new. Sometimes those people come back and sometimes they don't."

"Giant" may be the right word to describe the playing field, which like soccer, is referred to as the pitch. Two years ago, a men's team, the Columbus Jackaroos, played a team from Cincinnati in the first United States Australian Footy League game in Columbus at Tuttle Park. The Jackaroos used cones to mark off the oval-shaped pitch, which was approximately 185 yards long and 150 yards wide.

The Jackaroos, organized by Worthington resident Chet Ridenour, has grown to more than 60 members and now is a member of the Mid-American Australian Footy League. They regularly have two teams worth of players at weekly practices. Their summer schedule is a full slate of Saturday games. Watching the way the Jackaroos have grown inspired the effort to get a women's team off the ground.

After watching her Australian husband Scott "Scooter" Matheson, a Grandview resident, play and coach the Jackaroos for the last two seasons, Sara Matheson has taken on the role of president of the Jillaroos. They are one of 14 WAFA teams.

"Two years ago (the Jackaroos) were so young and now we look at them and they're professional," said Matheson, who balances her role as club president with a full-time job and graduate school. "That's a very loose use of the word (professional), but they have close to 30 guys that are there regularly.

"They are a united team, and they have leaders that step up. It's definitely not dying out at all. It just keeps getting stronger."

Matheson said getting enough people to show up consistently is the biggest obstacle that the Jillaroos face. They have eight to nine players who show up on a regular basis. With 18 players allowed to play at once, the Jillaroos are relegated to doing drills rather than a full scrimmage like the Jackaroos often do. If they do want a full scrimmage, it's usually with the guys.

The recruiting process has been an online effort through various social media sites. They also have posted flyers around the area.

Team members pay dues to the team and volunteer for fundraisers, which have been anything but easy.

Last month the Jillaroos pulled the floor up after graduation in the Schottenstein Center.

They have their sights set on playing at the U.S. Footy Nationals in Louisville in October. On July 10, the Jillaroos play their first game in Milwaukee, Wis. The event also includes a team from Minnesota.

"It probably will be ugly, but everyone's so friendly about it," Matheson said. "We have to get game experience, especially if we want to play in nationals. You have to balance being new and getting annihilated in your first games. You have to take it in stride and know that you're going to get better."

But playing for the Jillaroos is more than just the competition. For some of the players, it's become a way of life. Harvey hurries home from her job in Dayton to make it to practice on Tuesday nights. Another player lives in Dayton.

"Once you're out of college and you get into the real world, it always seems like (you're existing) day to day," Harvey said. "Here it's the camaraderie. I love meeting new people. (Playing for the Jillaroos) kind of gives you a purpose."