avalon soccer club's Women's 16's return to Vanuatu - 2023
After a three year COVID enforced hiatus, the traditional W16 tour to Vanuatu was back for 2023. Started in 2012, the tour is used to promote women’s sport in the region, to offer the team the chance to play against local opposition and allow the Avalon community to make charitable donations to projects on the islands.
This year Avalon Soccer Club had 21 girls from our 2 W16 teams travelling at the end of June for a 9 day trip that would encompass 3 matches, community visits, cyclone recovery work and a meeting at the Australian High Commission in Port Vila.
The trip is entirely self-funded with the team commencing fundraising in August 2022 with numerous cake bakes and BBQs at local events.
Despite a number of travel challenges, our W16 squad returned home on Sunday July 9 following the successful resumption of the Vanuatu tour, the 9th since 2012.
The original 9 day itinerary was cut back to 7 after the group were bumped from their initial Air Vanuatu flight on Friday June 30, and cut back further to 4 days, after their rescheduled flight was cancelled due to the Sydney airport chaos over the first weekend of the Winter School Holidays break.
But despite the logistical challenges, the group still managed to spend an extremely productive few days on Etafe, with a number of community visits, football projects and even a little down time!
Arriving in the early hours of Thursday morning, the group grabbed a few hours sleep before reconvening at 7am and heading off to drive around the whole island on a donations drop. With 27 containers of goods donated by the public, the club and one of our sponsors Mike Pawley, and delivered to Port Vila courtesy of the IVE Group, it was a mammoth effort to organise and distribute in a short time frame.
2.30 am arrival time
However the team were able to visit the Lycee Francais School, in Port Vila first, delivering dozens of brand new footballs along with school supplies to an excited group of children. Next up was the 45 minute drive to Port Havannah and a second drop at Tanoilu Primary School. Finally it was a short trip up the road to Ulei Junior Secondary School.
Here, the team were presented to the school students, and received gifts of beads, shells and leis. In exchange the group presented the school principal with a kit for their team, brand new balls and football boots, and a number of water bottles and other school supplies.
The girls then headed out for an impromptu match against the very talented Ulei School team, in front of the rest of the school.
The team moved onto Ekipe and Le Life Resort where they met Tahnia Cook. Tahnia has been supporting the local community in Ekipe following the devastating March cyclones, and the team’s fundraising allowed the group to donate $7000 to get a container of much needed building materials, homewares and school supplies over to the island, to assist with rebuilding the local village.
at Le Life Resort
The team also dropped off donations for a school library before returning to Port Vila for their first match against the Vanuatu U16 national team.
Under the guise of coach Nesta Moli, the matches marked important preparation for the upcoming OFC U16 championships in Tahiti, with the players coming largely from Suango School and Erakor School.
The match, played in front of a boisterous crowd at Freshwater Stadium, was extremely competitive and played at a high tempo in humid and overcast conditions, with both sides testing the respective goalkeepers. Avalon had the better of the first half, and went ahead shortly before half time with a cool finish from Luella Williams after good work from Sophia Randall and Isobel Festa in the lead up.
The second half saw the hosts apply more pressure as fatigue began to set in for the visitors. Selina Wogis’ smart finish gave Vanuatu the equaliser early in the half, and they continue to push for a winner, but were denied thanks to excellent defending and a series of smart saves from Petronella van der Wallen.
Avalon Goalie Petronella van der Wallen with Vanuatu Goalies
Avalon remained dangerous on the break, but with the game seemingly set to be a draw, Ketura Iopa popped up with a winner for Vanuatu 5 minutes from time to seal the game.
The players came together post match, and were addressed by VFF Technical Director Pita Takaro, with the Avalon team gifted a Vanuatu key chain from their opposition players. Both sides then shared a meal in the grandstands, before a very weary Avalon group headed off for a well earned rest!
Friday was a day of activities including Ziplining, snorkelling and a trip to the Blue Lagoon, before the team once again headed to Freshwater Stadium for the second game of the tour against the national team. Coach Marino Festa rotated his 21 player squad in sweltering conditions, with temperatures nudging 32 degrees, and both sides struggling to get a foothold in the first half, Amber Knights with the best chance for Avalon on the half hour mark, shooting wide.
Goalless at half time, the second half was much more open with both sides having a number of chances. Isobel Warren and Isobel Festa both saw chances for Avalon go just wide, while at the other end, Lucy Johns and Keira Brigstocke both made terrific last gasp tackles to deny the hosts. In the end the 0-0 draw was a fair result, and just reward for 90 minutes of effort from both teams.
Coach Festa was delighted with the performances. “Thanks to each and every one of the girls for the way they conducted themselves. They made Avalon proud and left a legacy for future years to continue to visit and to empower and promote women’s sport at all levels in Vanuatu.”
After a final team meal on Saturday, the team had an early night before a 3am alarm call to head back to the airport and a flight back to Sydney, after a whirlwind few days. Club Vice-President Stuart Randall was proud of the result of the tour.
“It was a huge logistical effort across the last 10 months to get the tour up and running again after 3 years, with major challenges for us even in the last week! And while the tour didn’t last as long as planned, we ensured that the girls still had the best possible experience, and we were able to maximise our time on the ground to get as much done as possible.
“It was an amazing experience off the pitch to see the impact of our visit and our donations to the various schools and communities, and on the pitch, the girls were outstanding in both games. The conditions were not easy and Vanuatu extremely talented, so to achieve the results they did was tremendous.
“Everyone at the club is extremely proud of them.”
The tour group acknowledge the support of the families of the team, the Vanuatu Football Federation, sponsors IVE Group, Mike Pawley Sports, Cloud 9 Roofing and Guttering, Colne Risk Advisory and Besteam Sport.
The baton is now being handed over to the 2023 W15 group for next year’s tour, so stay tuned!
Report by Stuart Randall. Photos: Vanuatu Football Federation, Stuart Randall and Adriaan van der Wallen.