At first, this story may seem to be about a group of Hampton Primary School girls who made their parents, teachers, school and community very proud on Thursday September 7, 2017, when they contested the School Sports Victoria State Finals in primary girls' soccer. The story, however, holds so much more – about life in general and how with trust, focus and support incredible things can be achieved.
The journey for many of the girls started years ago when a common love brought some of them together to work under the tutelage of Dominic Blackham who coached them in soccer at Hampton. Some of the other girls are not soccer players – but rather are basketballers, dancers, gymnasts. No commonality you say? Yes there is – 100% work ethic! In fact that was the common thread that tied all the girls together at the State Championships – 100% work effort for the team.
Just over 1100 schools across Victoria commenced in this competition and Hampton got to the final eight – which in itself was a huge achievement! We needed to be special to get this far – because the team needs to first win at district level, then at Division level and then at regional level before gaining the opportunity to go against the best 8 in the state!
But 'special' does not naturally happen for 99% of the population. Hard work is what can make things become special. It was a bonus that these girls had parents who fully entrusted the girls development to the PE department at Hampton Primary School. Electing to be involved during school holiday programs at soccer sessions, and even spending a part of summer holidays at a soccer camp showed me that parents trust us and our judgement to do the best thing for their children. As a teacher, I value this trust and so the work of molding a team began in October of 2014 when we selected a group of grade three girls to go to the Parkdale Secondary College Soccer tournament.
We repeated this visit to Parkdale in 2015. Then in 2016, prior to the winter season, we selected those girls, who were now young grade 5s, and planned a two year program aimed at having a successful tilt in 2017. We far exceeded our goal in 2016 by reaching the regional level of competition but simply did not have the physical maturity to go further – but it was an experience that would become valuable in developing the talent for 2017.
Prior to Easter of 2017, we entered a school team in the Chelsea Easter Cup and won each game – finally winning the grand Final 1-0 in a very tight game. The second term started and each district game was a challenge with Sandringham East being by far our toughest competitor. We managed to go through undefeated in 7 games which allowed us to get to the district playoff round. We played against Heatherton Christian College and, even though they were very tough, we won 4-1. This now enabled us to advance to the Kingston Division round robin against Bentleigh West and St Louis De Montfort schools. Bentleigh West were very difficult to overcome but eventually we were able to eclipse the Wests to move through to the regional finals.
So once again, we found ourselves at Casey Fields in Cranbourne against a very tough bracket. We won our first game, drew game number two and won our third game. We waited to see if we had made it through and we did on goal difference. We would play the undefeated Elwood PS. It was truly a classic encounter. It was difficult playing at Casey in windswept, cold and rainy conditions. We had our chances and so did Elwood, but at full time it was 0-0. Extra time was played and with three minutes left it seemed as if a penalty shoot-out would result – but with 40 seconds left on the clock Hampton were able to score a goal against the breeze and win the right to progress to the State Finals.
This year the finals were to be played at Kingston Heath instead of Darebin, which was a bonus for us. On Sunday night, September 3, we saddled up to play the Southern SAP team who truly gave us a run for our money. Our purpose was not to go there to win but to gain experience on the pitches and the speed of the ball and excessive bounce of the ball – far more difficult than grass. Southern scored first which seemed to create far more urgency in the Hampton team – who equalized shortly before the half. We made some changes at half time and asked the girls to do some things a little different. It clearly worked as we came out in the second half far more powerfully. We gained a higher percentage of possession and scored our second goal and missed many other chances, while our defenders were able to read the play far better with the experience of playing on this type of surface. It was the perfect hit-out and even though we won 2-1, the greater value was becoming familiar with the field.
The preparation was done, but now we still had a couple more hurdles. We had two girls with injuries and a couple very ill with flu. Also, our District Athletics Meet was on Wednesday 6th – a day before finals and we had to manage the players and the physical strain that event would put on them.
Thursday came and we rolled up to Kingston Heath along with schools from Ballarat, Geelong, Wangaratta, Phillip Island, Bendigo, Vermont, and Mill Park. It was crowded and many excited parents were there cheering on their children and hoping for the 'amazing' to happen. Eight schools remained from over 1100! And here we were. Some of the schools had huge student numbers – 1200 to 1300 pupils. The SSV had done a great job with organization and the day began promptly at 9.30AM! Each game would be 2 x 20 minute halves and we had proper FFV referees. I must congratulate the SSV conveyor on her brilliant work in having the tournament run like a Swiss clock!
Before our first game we spoke about what we could control. The word 'win' was never mentioned. Collectively we came up with individual and team goals. Our primary goal was to play good football – which meant passing accuracy, pressuring opponents, utilizing space and attacking the ball. Individually everyone committed to giving 100%, communicating, working tirelessly for our team mates and following coach instructions. If we could simply do these things, then we should all be proud – win, lose or draw.
Our first game was against Livingstone Primary School from Vermont. We started nervously and missed some easy goals but eventually we worked a goal through. Sheer hard work created another and by the end we had put 4 goals on the board. Our defense was brilliant – led by Kate Godden and Audrey Smart who played with such confidence that it literally inspired the rest of the team. So much did they dominate the first game that Giselle Buckley, our keeper, did not even touch the ball! Frances O'Driscoll and Elysia Jones just got better as the game went and held their opponents marvelously. Keisha Jacobs and Maya Jacobs were simply tough and courageous. Many a time they were hit, tripped, pushed, and fouled but they just kept getting up. Literally they flew through the air two times in the first game landing on that unforgiving surface. Daisy Flockart, Amelie Blackham, Olivia Braakhuis, Eloise Edmonson and Megan Elliott kept creating chances and scored some very neat goals. Two of our three subs were clearly not well and had come to play still ill, and so we started to manage the team as best as we could. It would be a long day after all. We won our first 4-0 and were still relatively fresh. We managed to get Daphne and Sienna a small amount of time, but clearly they were not themselves.
We went in and evaluated our game. The girls were honest and we realized that our communication and attack on the ball could have been better and we would work on this in our next game.
Game two was against St Patricks from Wangaratta. They had some very clever players in their team – in fact, many of the girls had played our girls in the Easter Cup earlier on in the year and they had been the other finalist. So away we went. We kicked with the breeze and we played so well. Daisy Flockart, Amelie Blackham and Olivia Braakhuis were amazing in attack. Daisy kicked 3 goals in 5 minutes to completely demoralize St Patricks. At the half it was 3-0. The second half was tougher but we gave Giselle a run up front and Maya went into goal. Giselle was very strong and both her, and Daisy, kicked two wonderful goals. The team was rolling now and not giving St. Patricks any avenue of escape. We even managed to get Daphne and Sienna more time and Daphne bravely scored a goal. We won 6-0, but the Hampton Girls showed unrelenting pressure to smother the opponents.
Our third game was against Cowes Primary School. They had won a game and drawn and could still go through if they beat us. The game started and we continued to exert huge amounts of pressure on every opponent which really negated any attempt at structured build up. Each team we had played had three of four really great players but with the incessant application of pressure from every Hampton girl the opposition stars could not get their game going and were forced deep into their defensive third where they rushed clearances just to be continually barraged again and again by our midfield and defenders. It was during the Cowes game that we started to string some great passages of play and Daisy Flockart and Olivia Braakhuis scored some 'ripper' goals. We put in three goals in the first half and then prepared to defend against the howling wind. We knew that all we had to do was gain a draw to get through and so we challenged our group to take a defensive mindset. The second half was a battle but we still managed to kick another goal to win 4-0. The girls were playing superbly and their efforts had not let up throughout the day. In fact they were maintaining their strength and tenacity as each team started to show signs of tiredness. We went through undefeated and were in the State Final!
We chatted about what we could do better and we identified a couple of key players from the opposition who were very capable. We were going to play Girton Grammar – a private college in Bendigo with over 1200 students. They played a similar style to us and had been very difficult to break down and score against. They had two very strong defenders who had not allowed any easy attacks. Girton also had great midfielders and a ferociously fast striker. Together they were formidable!
As we sat in the change room we realized that, for the Hampton girls, it was the last step of a journey which had started in grade three. We had achieved the goal we set out in 2014, which was to reach the state level of competition, yet we had surpassed that and were just about to play for the State title. We walked out and the referees called us to get the final started. The game commenced at 2.40PM and with great support from the parents and our wonderful principal Sue Knight, we undertook the task at hand with two aims in mind – 100% unrelenting effort and to strive and play good football.
The final commenced and the nervousness was evident on both teams. However, Hampton settled quicker and we were able to keep the ball in our attacking half. No girl from Girton Grammar was given time on the ball. It was continual pressure. They too foiled us as we made attack after attack. Eventually great play by our forwards resulted in a goal and that seemed to ease the nerves and we continued to attack. Amelie, Olivia, Daisy, and Megan were ferocious in front and passed the ball across the goals numerous times. The Jacob sisters along with Megan worked so hard in trying to prevent Girton getting past our midfield - and if it did - Kate and Audrey, Frances and Elysia would give all they had to deny the opposition. We kicked another goal and at this point Girton looked as if they had no more in their legs. They had been brave all day but it was Hampton who gained in confidence and started to gain the ascendancy. We kicked three beautiful team goals in the first half. The body language said it all. We had a bounce in our step and Girton knew that it was going to be difficult to turn the game. They could not break the Hampton defense.
At the half we brought in the 'tight two' defensive formation utilizing the tenacity of Maya and Keisha and allowed Megan to run rampant. Daphne, Daisy, Olivia, Eloise and Amelie were running amok up front as the whole team lifted. Kate Godden scored off a free kick and Olivia scored a cracker and we were 5-0 up. There was no coming back. Each time the opponents tried to get the ball past our defenders Giselle would race out of her 18 yard box and repel the attack and two times she started a counter – once leading to a goal for us. The whistle blew and 14 girls celebrated wildly in front of proud parents and school leaders. These girls could have played another hour! The journey was over and it was time to celebrate. The hard work had paid off and a valuable life lesson was made. Every girl had contributed 100% effort. What a wonderful experience for these young girls. The memory will last a lifetime and so it should. It's not every day a school can win a state title. Congratulations and a big thanks to all the folks who supported the girls in their journey. It takes a village to raise a child properly. What a village we have here at Hampton primary School! We have earned six state titles in seven years and now it is time to start planning!
Written by Robert Giabardo