MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 06: Ruby Schleicher of the Magpies celebrates a goal during the 2021 AFLW Round 02 match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Geelong Cats at Victoria Park on February 06, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

As a dual-sport athlete that has plied her trade on both hardwood and turf across the past decade and change, Collingwood defender Ashleigh Brazill knows class when she sees it.

Speaking almost 12 months ago to the day, the netballer-come-footballer described a youngster in the Pies' defensive unit as both an effervescent "jokester" and a missile that fires "100 miles an hour, 100 per cent of the time."

The bubbly scud in question?

Ruby Schleicher.

At the time of Brazill's praise, the East Fremantle export sat shy of her 23rd birthday and with a total of 19 AFLW appearances to her name.

However, by the cessation of her fifth season in black and white bars, Schleicher had elevated her name into the competition's elite echelon by collecting a maiden All-Australian blazer after leading the league for intercept marks and possessions during 2021.

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But while the scaffolding was removed from this embossed steeple in April, the foundation for Schleicher's success was laid in late January of last year when the former basketballer quashed the influence of Darcy Vescio during the Pies' and Blues' Round 1 meeting.

While the Western Australian turned in a repelling stat line of 12 disposals, five marks and three tackles during the Thursday night cracker, it was Schleicher's glove-like command to keep the Blues' superstar to two kicks and a singular goal that had hats tipped.

Fast forward to last weekend, and the pair were fixtured to face-off in the second round of their bout within the bout. And even if the combined energy of Vescio and Schleicher could light an entire lot of film sets, it was the defender that remained the most incandescent of the two.

Despite Vescio's capacity to find the Sherrin seeing mild improvement this year, their square circle contemporary shaded them again with 15 touches, a bevy of intercepts and the ability to keep the forward scoreless throughout the Round 1 dual.

Yet, while Schleicher was again sublime in the back half during the Woods' 19-point win, it was a chance to float forward, goal and hit every teammate's palm in celebration on her jog back across Princes Park that acted as the glacé cherry atop Sunday's sundae.

With recognition in Sarah Black's vaunted 'Top 30' catalogue and an ownership of 28.5 per cent on the AFLW Fantasy platform, Schleicher has slid under nobody's guard ahead of this summer of football.

And even though expectations for 2021 have risen, Collingwood head coach Steve Symonds claimed that the backline linchpin had no plans to take a backward step.

“’Rubes’ is fantastic. She’s just grown in confidence from last year,” Symonds told Zero Hanger post-game.

“We had her on Darcy last year in Round 1 and that was the trigger for Ruby. She was able to get the balance of winning the defensive battle and then being offensive off that.

“We thought towards the back end of last year that ‘Rubes’ had started to do a bit more offensively than defensively, so we’ve challenged her through the pre-season to start getting that balance right again. Today, she was super in that area, so we think Ruby is going to have another solid season.”

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But even if her teammates can turn their heads and know that the blonde-haired defender in the No.18 guernsey has their back, Schleicher's wherewithal to begin filling the airspace left by Sharni Norder's foghorn voice should render any cock of the neck as moot.

Irrespective of the fact that manufacturers clearly broke their mould after sculpting Norder's will, wit and larynx, Symonds stated that Schleicher's desire to bring more of her personality to the Magpies' "family" saw her as invaluable on both sides of the boundary line.

"She’s really stepped up with ‘Sharns’ [Norder] retiring," he said of the 23-year-old.

"‘Rubes’ does bring the energy to the group as well. She’s one of three or four players that have really stepped up in that void by setting the tone, setting energy and vibe, but also giving direction on the field.

"She’s got a super football brain as well."

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With co-captain Bri Davey succumbing to a devastating knee injury late in Sunday's victory, the need for blossoming barometers like Schleicher to remain on the track has duly risen.

And with the cruel injury taking some fizz out of the win, the necessity for the former pick No.137 to stay her vivacious self off it will also be at a premium.

Though the task of leading a line and keeping a locker room bouncing is no mean feat for anyone, if the job is currently at the feet of someone able to mute the likes of Vescio whilst laughing all along, perhaps 2022 could be the year of the Magpie after all.

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