Teen on world stage
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.”
Grace Wisnewski in action for Hamilton Wanderers against Three Kings.
Football family, Grace Wisnewski, 16, with her brothers (from left) Blake, Logan and Kyle.