Sydney Olympic women’s team is entering unchartered waters as it embarks on its ninth season. This year is the first time the team competes in the NSW NPL’s top tier competition after winning the NPL 2 title last season.
There will be a host of new faces on deck as the club has completed a strong recruitment drive in a bid to avoid the pitfalls, facing many newly promoted clubs to the NPL 1 in recent seasons, which has seen the newcomer unceremoniously relegated almost immediately.
Sydney Olympic senior women’s team coach George Beltsos, speaking to Neos Kosmos on the eve of the NPL 1 season says, “ For us to be competitive and have a chance of staying up, we’ve had to recruit , go out and contact players, speak to a lot of players. After a lot of hard work by all of us, we were able to recruit pretty much a competitive team.”
Twelve new recruits to be exact, most of whom have had NPL 1 experience and five of whom played in the W- League season just completed. In fact, the team retained just five of the NPL 2 Championship winning squad of last season, including top scorer Lieke de Bever and Olympic stalwarts Kate Halaska, Danielle Calvi, Kristy Kunovski and Madelaine Costanzo. Unfortunately, prolific goalscorer Costanzo injured her knee in a recent pre-season trial match and looks likely to be out with a long term injury in what coach Beltsos describes as “a really big loss for us.”
With such a high turnover of players, coach Beltsos says, “It won’t be easy. It will take time to hit the ground and to gel as a team. But as a club, we sort of did what we had to do, I thought, to give ourselves a chance of staying up.”
The five new recruits from W-League clubs include three Greek-Australian players, midfielder Teresa Polias and defender Angelique Hristodoulou from Sydney FC, as well as forward Panayiota Petratos, (sister of footballers Dimi and Kosta ) from Newcastle Jets. Joining them from Western Sydney Wanderers are young forward Susan Phonsongkham and keeper Jada Whyman.
The late arrival of the W-League recruits, means that with just a couple of weeks out from the start of the season, “ We’ve hardly had our W-League players for our training sessions so far. For them to understand out formations and style of football we want to play, there’s still a little bit of work ahead for us. For cohesion to be in the team, it will take a bit of time. I think the club will be patient.”
Going from top dog over the last two seasons in NPL 2 to the new kids on the block in NPL 1, will require some adjustment according to the coach. “We were the superior team in the last two years. This year we’re not going to be the superior team, so we have to be a bit smarter in the way we play, attack and defend. It’s not going to be like, ‘if we concede, don’t worry, we’ll score four or five, it doesn’t matter.’ We can’t have that attitude. So our game plan and our formation is changing.”
It says a lot about the club’s ambition and commitment towards the women’s game that they are putting plenty of resources into women’s football. Beltsos says having a successful senior women’s team competing in the top tier means a lot to the club. “It’s huge, it’s very important to them. They’ve backed the team and they’ve made funds available for us to get some players. They’ve given us better training grounds, the facilities are better. The club’s been really very supportive. There’s only going to be two clubs in the whole competition that have a womens and a mens team both in NPL 1. The other one is Manly United. So that’s great.”
Beltsos is also appreciative of the work of club Technical director Ante Juric, who recently coached Sydney FC to the W-League title. “It’s really good to have such a great football brain working with our club. He’s had a wealth of experience. He’s been really, really helpful. Bends over backwards to help the teams.”
According to coach Beltsos, “success for Sydney Olympic women’s team would be to consolidate a spot in the NPL 1 in 2019 and then just grow stronger and stronger in the years to come, and make ourselves a powerhouse in Women’s football as we are in Men’s football.”
Sydney Olympic’s season kicks off on Sunday March 10th against Blacktown Spartans.