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Stepping stone to higher honours

Nina Kondo. PHOTOS/FILE
Wairarapa United is proving to be a great stepping stone for young talent with a strong desire to make a career out of football. Times-Age sportswriter Chris Cogdale caught up with the two youngest players in the women’s squad.

FOOTBALL

Hot on the heels of former Wairarapa United player Callan Elliot, who was a 2018 New Zealand Under-20 international, and last month made his A-League debut for the Wellington Phoenix, the club has unveiled another player with the talent and burning desire to reach the highest level.

Solway College student Nina Kondo may be only 14 years old, but already she boasts an impressive history.

Kondo began playing at the age of seven and reckons she made her first representative team at 10.

The Nelson native played for Mainland at the age group national championships, being selected for the tournament team and being named in the national Under-14 identification squad.

She moved to Masterton this year to join the Paul Ifill Football Academy.

Kondo, whose father is Japanese, and her mother, a Kiwi, has had two stints in Japan.

“I actually went over to trial two years ago and then last year decided to go over for a term and train there,” Kondo said.

The standard was much higher. “The girls are a lot fitter and the ball moves a lot quicker, but training with the boys over here is just as good.”

Kondo will head to a national Under-17 training camp over the upcoming school holidays and she hopes that would be a stepping stone to higher honours.

“I would like to make the Under-17 squad. The World Cup is next year and the Oceanias’ [qualifying] are this year in New Zealand.”

Kondo has ambitions to get a university scholarship in the United States and then play professionally in Europe. She would also like to push for national honours at the highest level, and said she’d probably choose New Zealand over Japan.

In the immediate future, Kondo is enjoying the start of her time at Wairarapa United and she’s confident of success.

Darby Lambert

St Matthews Collegiate pupil Darby Lambert is another player moving up to the first team this season.

The 15-year-old started playing at the age of five and has been a regular fixture in age group representative teams throughout her playing career.

Lambert is in her first season with United and she said it was a big step up.

“It’s much better than school, the competition is much more intense, but it’s helped me a lot so far.”

The diminutive Lambert plays at striker and relies on speed and skill to make up for her lack of size.

Lambert has represented Capital Football at age-group level and comes from a talented sporting family. Her older sister, Poppy, is on a hockey scholarship in Boston.

She also has ambitions to play at university level in the US.

Lambert is also confident of United having a good season. “We’ve just really bonded as a team and we’ve worked out our strengths and weaknesses.”

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