The Under 14 Girls required a positive result at Albert Park on Sunday and they delivered in fine form. A 2-0 result over Kensington sealed top spot and with that, the girls claimed the Premiership.
The first half was a balanced affair with both teams having chances on goal but neither finding the net. The second half however was full of action.
The excitement began with a fierce tackle inside the area sending South to the penalty spot. The kick went wide, which spurred the girls to lift the intensity further. Minutes later, Ella Nickolaus pounced on a poor defensive pass across the face of goal and shot low into the bottom left corner of the net.
Ten minutes on and the referee would again blow the whistle and point to the spot. It was at the other end this time and keeper Stella Ainalis would be called into action. Stella went down to her right and parried the ball away to make a crucial save.
U14G // 54′ PENALTY SAVE Stella Ainalis with what could be the premiership winning save pic.twitter.com/yx0FgPgUFw
— South Melbourne FC (@smfc) August 28, 2016
With four minutes to play, South would seal the points thanks to a classy finish by Giulia Galatas. The final whistle sounded with the 2-0 result giving South’s girls the Premiership.
Speaking to smfc.com.au after the match, Hazel Marsh shared her thoughts on the match. “I think we played well and our passing was really good. Starting off today we were a bit rusty but once we got started we were really good. I thought Ella played well, Elena’s through-balls were amazing.”
Goalkeeper Stella Ainalis celebrated her birthday with a clean sheet and penalty save. After the match she said that “the match started to pick up throughout the game. Our second half was stronger. The transitions today were really well done. I think the girls did really well.”
“It was a bit quiet for me in the first half but towards the second half I got a bit more involved. That was good. My highlight for the second half was the penalty I saved which was pretty good…(but) also Giulia scored a left foot goal, which I think is pretty good as that’s tough to do. Ella’s goal was also great. Everyone was amazing.”
Speaking about her penalty save, Stella shared her experience saying “it was a bit nerve racking at the start, but I made the save and I was really happy.”
Reflecting on a positive season that yielded sixteen wins, two draws and one loss, coach Mark Knauer had the following to say: “The girls have had an absolutely awesome year. I think that is premised by their technical development over the course of the season and their ability to play combination football. If I think about where they were back at the start of the season compared to where they are now, it’s like two different teams.”
The squad playing in the Under 13/14 competition is very young and is often out-sized on the pitch. “Without the technical skills, we get physically pushed off the ball probably nine times out of ten. But because of the crisp ball movement, their first touch and their ability to get their eyes up and have a look at what is around them, it enables them to play the ball around so much better,” Knauer added.
“I think one of the greatest compliments for me this season came when we were at the Kanga Cup in Canberra. One of the parents from a team we played off the park came up and said that’s the best football he had seen an Under 14s girls team play. He said compliments to SMFC and Victorian football because in New South Wales and the ACT it’s just a physical game.”
The girls will now enter the finals series, where they are expected to play Kensington, who finished 4th, for a place in the Grand Final.