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The gamble pays off for WaiWolves

The under-10s football team, Wairarapa United Wolves, stepped up in more ways than one this season, punching above their weight in an older league and winning two Wellington soccer tournaments.

Following last season, when the Wolves were “beating teams by too many goals”, coaches Paul Gregory and Casey Shailer approached Capital Football, the sport’s governing body for the region, “to put them up a year”.

Their wish was granted but with a twist.

There was no U11s option this season, so the Wolves were boosted to the U12s in the Wairarapa league.

“It was a bit of a gamble”, Gregory, who is an ex-Wairarapa United player, said.

“Some of our players were playing kids four years older. From the age of eight to 12 is a big size difference more than anything.”

Starting in the lowest division of the U12 league, Wolves came out fighting, winning their first game 10-1.

“They kept regrading us as we kept on winning”, Gregory said.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for the underdogs.

Being beaten by the young Wolves was too much for some of the U12 teams in the league, Gregory said.

“We had a game and we beat the opposition 1-0.

“They literally said, ‘But they’re just little kids!’ and started kicking them around a bit.”

The rest of the season delivered a few more losses for the Wolves, but Gregory thinks this “probably did some good, rather than winning all the time. It knocked them off their stool a bit.”

The Wolves regrouped at the 2023 Wellington graded tournament, involving 16 teams from across the region.

They beat the favourites 3-0 on penalties in the quarter-finals, before polishing off the opposition in the semis and the final.

“They worked their little hearts out”, Gregory said, “and at the end of it, they got what they deserved.”

Plenty of drama featured in their next success at the WBS Douglas Villa Junior tournament.

Wolves made it to the final after some hard-fought matches, but “one nil up with 13 seconds to go, and we scored an own goal which took it to penalties”, explained Gregory.

Wolves’ goalie, Monty Booth, who typically prefers to be “out on the pitch”, was the “match winner”, saving three penalties, missing one, then scoring one himself.

“Tournaments are actually hard to win”, Gregory said. “They’re shorter games, smaller pitches. Sometimes the best team never wins, because that’s the way it works out, especially when it goes to penalties.”

The entire season was a big step up for Gregory and Shailer’s team, and they are “extremely proud” of the young Wolves.

“They have worked so hard. Our team is just a great little team. And that’s exactly what they are – a team, rather than individuals.”

The Wolves’ supporters have also played their part in their success this season.

The team was sponsored by three local businesses – Rigg Zschokke Ltd, Life Pharmacy Masterton and Power Farming Wairarapa.

“And the parents are great”, Gregory said.

“We’ll get a lot of parents, grandparents, sisters, aunties, uncles, they’ll come and watch. You can end up with about 30 people on the sidelines on a Saturday, and that helps them as well.”

“We’re like one big family and the parents are 110% behind our coaching style and methods.”

Gregory and Shailer have their eyes on the future.

With Wairarapa United lacking a senior men’s team for the last couple of seasons, Gregory’s “main aim is in six, seven years’ time, this [the U10] will be their senior team.”

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