Switching their emerald green jerseys to purple and black, Sale United’s best junior players represented the Latrobe Valley Soccer League in the 2022 Country League Football Association Junior Championships over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.
The championships brought together approximately 1500 of Victoria’s best junior soccer players from 12 regional competitions, including Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Shepparton, Moama-Echuca, Sunraysia and Albury-Wodonga.
Ten girls from Sale United Football Club made the LVSL Under-18 girls team, the only female team representing the LVSL at the championships, alongside four girls from East Gippsland FC and two from Falcons FC.
Sale’s Madelaine Breakspear coached the team.
Sale United’s Mace Irvine, Cooper Coleman and Chris Kelsey joined Hollie Ryan, Majidah Bitar, Sammi Kent, Dani Wilson, Jade DuVe, Leyla Babuc, Milli Harbour, Camille Japhary, Emma Robb, and Rohanna Mills in representing the LVSL in the Under-18s at the Country League Junior Championships over the long weekend.
In the LVSL Under-14 Boys, Sale United was represented by players Alvin Sae-Chew, William Callanan, Mitchell Norwood and Will Glover.
Jack McGrath, Oscar King, Jax Eldred, Kai Guiliani and Nate Miles from Sale United competed in the championships in the LVSL Under-13 Boys, while Heath McGrath played for the LVSL Under-12 Boys.
Playing in the LVSL Under-11 Boys team as Sale United’s youngest representatives were Alexander Olijnyk and Jonathon Sulyman.
The 2022 championships were eagerly welcomed by associations and players alike, having not been held since 2019 due to the ongoing pandemic, forcing cancellations in 2020 and 2021.
Among the happy soccer fans was tournament director Lisa Brooks.
“It was a fabulous weekend and great to be back after three years of cancellations,” Brooks said.
“We had just over 1000 players descended on Geelong with an estimated 4000-plus people into the region for the tournament, split over two venues, Myers Reserve and Stead Park.”
With over 200 games of soccer on full-sized fields played across Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, the event made up for lost time.
The Under-18 girls played six games over two days, bouncing back from an early defeat against Geelong to enjoy an impressive campaign.
“Every game, they continued to improve more and more,” Breakspear said.
“Over the weekend, the girls worked together, giving it 100 per cent every game, even though it was miserable and absolutely freezing.
“The girls played some really good football.”
The LVSL prepared for another battle against Geelong, with both teams entering the finals with five victories from six games.
Despite the Valley’s best efforts, a second-half double to Geelong striker Mia McCoach-Cripps delivered ultimate glory to Geelong, winning the final 2-0.
“It was a disappointing result; the girls really gave it their absolute everything,” Breakspear said.
“It was a huge weekend, and they were just exhausted, drained emotionally, physically and mentally.”
“At the end of the day, I really wanted the weekend to be about the team and for the girls to have fun, and they did.
“They really did have fun. We had team dinners; I even made them do an ocean recovery at the beach, which, I can tell you, was ice cold.
“Although we didn’t win the finals, seeing the girls happy, having fun and making new friends was just so nice.”
The LVSL girls returned home on Monday in good spirits.
“Although we didn’t come away with a win in the tournament, I think our team definitely came back as winners, having made friends and played to the very best of our abilities,” player Camille Japhary said.
“The scores reflect how our team improved from game to game as we became closer as a group and more familiar with each other’s playing styles.
“Overall, it was an amazing experience that has helped me improve my soccer skills and gain some awesome connections in the soccer community.”
Another player, Dani Wilson, who was attending the championships for the first time, said the weekend was highly enjoyable.
“The weekend ran so smoothly and was highly enjoyable. Our team bonded so well starting on day one,” Wilson said.
“The girls from our Under-18s LVSL squad were the absolute best. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.
“Maddi was the most supportive and caring coach ever; she had so much faith in us and made the entire weekend so much fun.”
The LVSL’s Under-18 Boys’ team, enjoyed an excellent campaign, reaching the final against Sunraysia.
In a dramatic contest, Sunraysia won the decider 2-1.