The true decider in the 2018 season for University was a grey weekend at the Hive. Feeling the conditions one would on top of Mount Wellington, the ominous clouds were a sign for the match ahead. The team in yellow and black threw everything, including the kitchen sink, forward in a do or die match against fellow bottom of the ladder dwellers Clarence, but to no avail. Clarence snatched a win off the back of a quality counter attack. The 2019 season outside of the Women’s Super League became a stark reality.
Suffering a demolition by a confident Olympia side during the vital play off match, sent the side into the summer ahead of an impending Championship season for the club’s Senior team. The demotion went on to have a flow on effect to the club’s reserve side, who would face a season in the state’s third tier with their social team counterparts.
There was no point in asking players at the end of the season whether they would stay at the club. It was a given, with a majority of the Super League squad remaining at the club. Only one left for another Super League club, while a clutch of juniors were vying for the chance of senior football.
During the first training session back in January, no beats were skipped.
Again, enough girls showed an interest to play in the upcoming season to throw the dice and play with three squads for a second season in a row.
A job opportunity in Launceston denied my chance to coach the reserves team, so to have an inside look at the past season I had a chat with Coach Amey Jambekar and Co-Captain Olivia Young.
Preseason set the tone for the side. The decision to not enter the Summer Cup, allowed the squad to consolidate.
“We played a few friendlies instead, which was really good and a really good way to ease them [the young girls who are coming up] into the team,” Olivia reflects.
Often clubs set expectations and goals at the start of the season, for Uni it’s simple
“The expectation for preseason was to be competitive and try to win the championship. Hopefully get back into WSL,” Amey admits, before talking about the squad that would see them through the season,
“Everyone was happy to stay and fight.. We actually got Rhiannon Steele, the goalkeeper who came to us, that was a good addition. Then a few young ones coming through the youth system. We also got Bec Kelly from South Hobart to come and play for us.”
University were on the backfoot last season, forced to defend for their lives. The Championship provided a chance to shake things up with some breathing space. The key areas to benefit were the development of youth players, the other was to hone their attacking game.
“We got to have lots of the younger girls come up and get a taste of what it’s like in the top side of the club. A lot of those girls really developed.
“And the girls who played last year really got to work on our attacking game; how to set up offensively and sort of defensively most of the time,” Olivia regales, herself celebrating some big milestones this season, with her 200th game and 100th goal at the club.
Dropping a division was always going to shake things up on the park. The side resorted back to the Aussie favourite formation of 4-3-3 and had one particular weapon up their sleeve in the first half of the season involving the club’s co-captains.
“On the field, my favourite moment was Ellisa (Bowditch) from the back, coming in and heading all goals off corners. I’ve never seen so many goals scored from corners. Olivia had absolutely pinpoint corners happening and no one could actually stop them doing what they were doing,” The coach says.
For the co-captain, there was one game that was a standout,
“We had one really good game against Olympia, where we were all playing really amazingly over at Warrior Park. Just everything was going right. We won 5-0.. It was really nice to go into halftime and everyone was really positive.”
On the field performances talked for themselves by the end of the season. Unbeaten in the Championship, a clean sweep of both the Championship and Championship 1 titles, as well as the senior side not dropping points until the last match against Taroona. The club took this season seriously.
There was also another change embraced at the club. The song. Changing to the tune of ‘We Will Rock You’
“Our old one was very much not original, a bit boring…” Olivia begins,
“So Miki (Mikalha George) decided it would be a really good idea to write a new song. We were like ‘ok, you take it away and bring it back to us’. It was so much better than we could have imagined. Now every time we sing it, we just really get into it. It’s so much fun to sing,”
A club is only as strong as the culture set off the pitch. It was in the little things off the field that helped while unable to play in the state’s top division. An unusual game changer is perhaps in the story of the garlic bread awards.
Sometimes the best motivation can come through food, it certainly did at University. During an invitational tournament where motivation was running low, a conversation between co-captain Ellisa and young forward Sophie Muir changed that.
“Ellisa said that anyone who scored two goals in one game, that’s a garlic bread. So it picked up from there.. And for the keeper, it’s a garlic bread each continuous clean sheet.” Amey clarified.
“The excitement around that at the start of the season was a lot of fun. It really got girls excited about scoring goals. Hitting the park each week, it was like ‘can we win a garlic bread today’,” Olivia recounts.
Even one of Tasmanian football’s longest road trips from Hobart to Somerset was an opportunity for team bonding,
“During the bus trip to Somerset for the Cup game, we did a quiz on the way up. Everyone was really into it and excited to be travelling,” the co-captain remembered.
With the season now over, the result of the competition review means the promotion/relegation rules that pulled University away from the WSL, is back on the bench. Hopes of the club’s senior side playing in the State League still remains fresh. There’s a spot up for grabs due to the Clarence/Zebras merger, and with no Launceston side standing up to the call, University are chomping at the bit to get back into the fold.
There’s changes at University for next season no matter the outcome. Amey has stepped down as head coach, while assistant coach Brad Judge now takes the reigns. Given the number of players who have played through the ranks at the club, Brad is a masterstroke. He has experience both at Uni, as well as having coached many of the players already at youth level.
Whatever happens, this is a club buzzing following a successful season away from the limelight.