Teen on world stage

Hamilton News - - FRONT PAGE - Tom Row­land

Two min­utes on the pitch was the goal for Hamil­ton-based foot­baller Grace Wis­newski be­fore the start of the U17 World Cup in Uruguay.

Since then, the 16 year old has played a part in each game of New Zealand’s U17 World Cup cam­paign, scor­ing against Uruguay in the group stages, and slot­ting home a penalty in the quar­ter fi­nal win against Ja­pan.

On Wed­nes­day, her big­gest fans, dad Phillip, mum Fiona and older brother Kyle flew to South Amer­ica to sur­prise her and sup­port her for the semi fi­nal match against Spain, which New Zealand lost 2-0.

New Zealand went toe to toe with Spain for much of the game, with Spain clinch­ing the re­sult thanks to a su­perb ef­fort from Irene Lopez at the start of the sec­ond half to put the game be­yond doubt.

Grace played the en­tire game, and came close in the 80th minute beat­ing the Span­ish de­fence be­fore her shot was well saved.

De­spite the loss, it is the first time New Zealand has ever made it at any level to a foot­ball semi fi­nal, and Grace will now play in a third and fourth play­off against ei­ther Mex­ico or Canada on Sun­day morn­ing, with fel­low Hamil­ton-based play­ers, Ge­or­gia Candy and the team’s top scorer Kelli Brown.

Kyle told Hamil­ton News af­ter ar­riv­ing in Uruguay that they had man­aged to sur­prise her be­fore the game and that she was ec­static to see them.

Phillip Wis­newski, said that be­fore the tour­na­ment Grace had con­cerns that she would not even make it onto the pitch.

“She was say­ing if I get two min­utes on the pitch, I am go­ing to be stoked,” Phillip said.

“I said to her you have to aim high, and she said I will but if I get those two min­utes I’d be stoked.”

The tour­na­ment caps a year of per­sonal suc­cess for Grace, who helped Hamil­ton Wan­der­ers fin­ish in their high­est po­si­tion of third in the LOTTONRFL sea­son.

Still de­vel­op­ing, Grace was a key player in Hamil­ton Wan­der­ers 2018 cam­paign, scor­ing mul­ti­ple im­por­tant goals, in­clud­ing two world-class ef­forts against Glen­field Rovers in the first round of the sea­son.

De­spite that suc­cess, Phillip said it was her broth­ers, Kyle, Lo­gan and her twin Blake, that have pushed her to be­come a bet­ter player.

“Her two older broth­ers both played foot­ball.

“We wanted her to play a team sport and she just fol­lowed on with them.”

Her broth­ers have had suc­cess in their own foot­balling paths, rep­re­sent­ing Melville United, while Lo­gan was se­lected ear­lier in the year for the New Zealand U18 Fut­sal squad.

“The fun­ni­est thing we used to do is when she was six is we would kick the ball out onto the grass, and the first one to score wins, and it would be Grace and her brother and all jokes aside it just used to be fierce.”

“Each one would des­per­ately want to win.

“It was funny, but it taught her that whole ag­gres­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion.”

He said Grace would be out­side as of­ten as pos­si­ble, kick­ing a ball. How­ever, in the house he has also had to be care­ful of stray foot­balls.

“You’re hav­ing to walk care­fully not to trip over a foot­ball or you are walk­ing down the hall­way and you’ll get one whipped be­tween your legs.”

Phillip said that he never ex­pected the New Zealand team to make it so far, but has called the en­tire U17 squad a breath of fresh air to New Zealand Foot­ball.

In Oc­to­ber an in­de­pen­dent re­view of New Zealand Foot­ball up­held com­plaints by mem­bers of the Foot­ball Ferns about the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s con­duct and cul­ture.

“You can just see that the team now has a won­der­ful, won­der­ful cul­ture,” Philip said, as the fam­ily packed for the trip to South Amer­ica

“It is a lot bet­ter than it was be­fore. We are there for a week be­cause we are guar­an­teed two games as they will play a third and fourth any­way, although we were hop­ing for a fi­nal.”

Photo / Grant Stan­tiall

Grace Wis­newski in ac­tion for Hamil­ton Wan­der­ers against Three Kings.

Photo / Sup­plied

Foot­ball fam­ily, Grace Wis­newski, 16, with her broth­ers (from left) Blake, Lo­gan and Kyle.

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