Ward's future brightens after positional switch
Ashleigh Ward still has a happy knack for scoring important and often match-winning goals, but credits her career's revitalistion with being convinced she had more to offer as a defender.
The 18-year-old Cashmere High School student was a member of the New Zealand under-20 women's football team, which recently played in the Fifa World Cup in Japan.
She started all three games at left back and impressed at a tournament littered with talented teens and scouts.
Had it not been for getting cut from the under-17 World Cup team two years ago and oddly not even being told why, Ward could have flagged football and pursued touch rugby - another sport in which she has shown plenty of promise.
After playing in the buildup for the 2010 event in Trinidad and Tobago and the qualifiers, Ward was dropped.
She was selected in the New Zealand Secondary Schools team and while that originally seemed of little consolation, it proved a turning point.
The coach of that side was highly respected women's coach and current under-17s mentor Paul Temple.
Temple convinced Ward her attacking skills and educated left boot were good at her preferred position of left wing, but could be fantastic at left fullback.
That change of position and mentality - and two years of hard work and major sacrifice - lifted ward from fringe under-17 player to starter in the under-20s.
She described the under-20 tournament in Japan, where New Zealand narrowly failed to progress from their group, as “heartbreaking” at the time, but a few weeks on was able to reflect on “how amazing an opportunity it was”.
“To be so close to going through to the next round, but missing out was really hard,” she said.
“We'd beaten Switzerland in our first game and not many New Zealand teams win their first game; then we drew with Japan and that felt like a win because they were so skilful and are such a good side in women's football. That was great, but then the way we missed out was the hardest part.”
Ward's side needed a draw or a win to progress, but were thrashed 4-0 by Mexico, and their tournament was over.
“I'm still not really sure what happened in that game.”
So after missing out on one World Cup, the high of the second has inspired Ward - and the effects on her game were immediate.
After a stint living and going to school in Auckland so she could train with the national side before the World Cup, Ward returned to Christchurch and returned to her Cashmere High School side just in time to join her team-mates for the Gary Sowden Cup - a second-tier national tournament.
Ward dominated the Timaru tournament, playing back on the left wing and scoring 14 goals in just six games, including a late winner against Marlborough Girls' College in the final for her side to take the title 2-1.
Last Wednesday Cashmere took on long-time rivals Marian College in the Canterbury Girls' Premier League final at QEII and Ward scored again, helping her side to another 2-1 win.
Ward and Kate Inwood were part of Cashmere sides that won the Gary Sowden Cup in 2009, then the local competition in 2010.
Says Cashmere coach Craig Squire: "She's brilliant, the ultimate professional. Her work rate; her attitude; she's a great kid and she empowers her team-mates and inspires them.”
Long term, it's Ward's work rate and attitude that will carry her far in football. The converted winger is hoping that's to a football scholarship in the United States, a second campaign with the under-20 New Zealand side, and from there "who knows".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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