Waimea College XI show fighting spirit
Story by: Jonathan McKoeown - Nelson Mail - Photo by: Marc Palmano - Shuttersport
The 2012 football season has been described as a "development" year for the Waimea College girls First XI football team but, before the weekend, they were leading the women's Top of the South first division league with a game in hand.
With only four teams competing in the division it's been a tough competition, with most games closely contested between the FC United First XI, Nelson College for Girls First XI and Marlborough Girls College First XI.
The testing league has been even more of a challenge for a young Waimea squad that lacks strength in numbers and often sees just the bare XI take the field. That means no substitutes to provide relief and, as they have found out the hard way, if a player goes down injured, the team goes down to 10.
However, through those trials the Waimea College team have learned to perform under pressure and coach Sandy Hamson said the teamwork and "fighting spirit" this has instilled, may have been the making of the team.
Hamson said after a slow start to the season, the girls have grown in confidence and strength, and are now showing some encouraging improvement on the field.
"The girls have continued to step up and rise to the challenge. They have had to dig deep and work hard for each other."
True enough, one of their better battles was against Marlborough Girls, when the team was reduced to 10. The side had travelled over the hill with a squad of only 11, but a bad knee injury inside the first quarter of the match forced the side to play the remainder down a player.
"The girls knew they were up against it, but something just kicked in and they lifted themselves up," said Hamson. "They were more than ready for the challenge. It was one of the best performances I have ever seen and I was incredibly proud of them."
Annie Brown, one of the team's three year 13 girls, shows some silky skills
The team is captained by Casey Hamson, one of only three year 13 girls in the team. The other two are Anna Hodgson, the team's vice captain, and Annie Brown. Hamson said all three are fantastic role models to the younger players and play a vital role in holding the team together.
In another boost to the role model roll, Young Football Ferns member Emily Jensen turns out for the side when she is available, the New Zealand under-17 defender playing three games for the side this season.
Lydia Langbein punches clear
With this sort of leadership, many of the younger players have made outstanding progress over the last two seasons. Fifteen-year-old goalkeeper Lydia Langbein has been worth her weight in gold, her shot-stopping skills a big factor in the team's success this season.
"She is passionate about her position and isn't afraid to throw herself about. It's easy to forget she is so young, she is definitely one to watch in the future."
Fourteen-year-old Sally Hodgson is one of the youngest in the team and works tirelessly up front week-in and week-out.
"She plays with a natural instinct, just knows where to be when she is needed. She has notched up some great goals this season but is never afraid to get back and defend at crucial times."
According to the coach, year 11 student Charlotte Gordon is the powerhouse of the team, playing with great strength and determination at the back. Adding to that, Charlotte has proven versatile, switching from her key role at left back to a somewhat more glamorous position in the forwards.
To date the team have won five, drawn three and lost three. With the competition being so close, just two points separating the top three teams, no game is taken lightly. As the side found on the weekend, a nil-all draw is all it takes to cost you top spot, as FC Nelson leapfrogged them on the table.
However, the resilient team will keep working hard as they build towards the big goal this season, the national secondary schools girls tournament being held in Taupo early September.
Last season Waimea College had a break from the national tournament, opting to compete at one of the South Island satellite tournaments instead, but this year the time is right for a new challenge.
"We felt we weren't in a position to play at that level last year with a number of senior players leaving and younger players entering the team," said Hamson. "Now we feel we are ready and we are looking forward to the national tournament. The girls deserve to be there this year."
The side have been extremely lucky to have a high level of committed and passionate coaching staff to look after them each week. Added to the experience Hamson brings they can also call upon the support and assistance of co-coach Joe Green.
The UEFA-qualified coach, who played professionally for Norwich, has been working with the girls for the last three seasons and the impact has been immense, said Hamson.
"It has been awesome having someone like Joe with his wealth of experience and technical ability. ‘The girls have thrived in his presence and his love for the game."
As for her own time with Waimea College, Hamson, who has been coaching football for 15 years, said the last five years with Waimea have been the most enjoyable and rewarding.
"They have been a great bunch of girls to work alongside and I am continually surprised by their ability to learn and their willingness to dig deep when it counts."