High hopes for Under-15 Girlz
...Seen as future of women’s programme, potential World Cup qualifiers
WEST BAY, Grand Cayman — It's not by chance that this crop of young Jamaican female footballers has been successful so far at the CONCACAF Under-15 Championship, says head coach Xavier Gilbert.
Discipline and a willingness to learn have been attributed to the fast-paced development of this young brood. So impressive their growth, Gilbert thinks within this group of young women reside individuals capable of being a part of a Jamaican team to qualify for a World Cup down the road.
"The senior team now has a wonderful chance and they are the ones who should be the first one. But I mean, these guys are on course and once we keep them together and with a few additions down the road, we should be in good stead," Gilbert told the Jamaica Observer.
"These youngsters look good and with more games and people learning and exposure at this level, certainly I have no doubt that one day we will be in the World Cup," Gilbert predicted.
This 18-member squad was assembled from the National Under-15 parish competition organised by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) in April and May in which Kingston defeated St Catherine to be crowned champions.
During the five-week tournament, the JFF technical staff assembled a squad for national training camps in preparation for this inaugural CONCACAF Championship involving 16 teams.
Jamaica, with huge victories over Belize and Anguilla 5-0 and 9-0, respectively, and a creditable 0-0 draw with Costa Rica, topped Group C with seven points, and coach Gilbert believes this is the most balanced team he has ever coached or been involved with.
"The difference is we have more rounded players, but we don't have that outstanding individual. I remember a few years when the first Under-15 squad was assembled, we had players like Trudi Carter, Shaneika Williams and Shanise Foster, three outstanding players," he pointed out.
"The last time around we had Khadija Shaw... who at the time played Under-15, Under-17 and Under 20," he added.
"We really don't have that quality individual in this squad, but I think this is a more balanced team in terms of their technical ability. They are good all round and can handle the ball and that's the difference. We have more players who are technically better," Gilbert noted.
The current squad has only two overseas-based players in defenders Emily Caza of St Elizabeth Catholic School in Canada and US-based Lyana Steele of Miami Palmetto School. Team manager Jean Nelson thinks that bodes well for the grassroots programme. The rest of the squad, captained by centre-half Rachel Walters of St Jago High School, are all local-based.
"It augurs well for the local programme because it is in line with keeping up with FIFA's grassroots (programme) and this competition is geared specifically for development, and from a JFF standpoint, I think that is very good," said Nelson.
When quizzed as to where these players are coming from to where they are now since April, Nelson broad smile and chuckle told the story. "Wow, it's a real transition and transformation."
"When they just came you could see that they were raw, especially from even a goalkeeping standpoint, and it is very good to see and I had to call goalkeeping coach Wedderburn (Clive) to congratulate him. Persons in the stands were saying that she was really trained," Nelson added.
The young girls, most of whom were travelling for the first time, showed a lot of discipline during their stay here in Cayman Islands and the coaching staff is not surprised.
"The discipline is good. They are just excited to represent Jamaica and once they put on the colours, they want to take lots of pictures. But in terms of discipline, I have no problem with them. I think they are probably one of the most disciplined teams in years," said Gilbert.
"It's just like having your young Under-15 at home you have to constantly guide them, nurture and guide them and keep them intact. They are young, funny and they make you laugh and keep me young," said Nelson.