Football Ferns defender CJ Bott finds the challenge she has needed in Germany
CJ Bott has found the challenge she was looking for.
Last month, the 22-year-old footballer signed her first professional deal, with German club USV Jena, and made a much-needed move away from New Zealand, where the competition had become a little too easy.
This week, she has been in Denver with the Football Ferns, preparing for a pair of friendlies against the United States, where she will be hoping for a chance to show the early benefits of being in her new environment.
"It's definitely a challenge," said Bott, about how she has found Germany so far.
"The competition is just so much better and intense than it has been in New Zealand, so it's come at a really good time for me, and it's the challenge I've needed for a while, so I'm really happy with the decision to go."
USV Jena have had Kiwis in their ranks in the past - current Ferns Amber Hearn and Ria Percival, and former Fern Abby Erceg - and play in the Frauen-Bundesliga, one of the world's leading competitions.
Bott made her debut a couple of weeks back, off the bench, and she said it was good to get an early taste of what playing in Germany will be like.
"It was a completely new ballpark for me. The pace of the game was something I haven't really experienced too often, so it was great to get amongst it and see what I'm up against for the future."
Bott has earned five Football Ferns caps since making her debut against South Korea in 2014, but finds herself competing with the team's most experienced player, Ria Percival, for her favoured right back role.
The US friendlies are the team's first assignment since the Cyprus Cup in March, and they are treating it as the start of their campaign towards the 2019 World Cup in France.
"We're definitely in the mindset where we've got a fresh start," said Bott.
"We've had a lot of time off, which has been kind of lame, because it's awesome being together, but at the same time, it was necessary. We've had a good time apart, time to refresh ourselves, and we're definitely ready to go, so it's exciting."
Bott hails from Wellington, but has been in Auckland for the past few years, playing most recently for Forrest Hill Milford, who she won the National Women's Knockout Cup with last year, and Northern Football, who she won the National Women's League with in 2015.
At the start of this year, she returned home, and was training with the Wellington Phoenix academy, as part of her involvement in the new Football Ferns Development Programme, but then came back to Auckland, joining the bulk of the domestic-based group for two months before leaving for Germany.
Bott said the support she received as part of the FFDP, and from the New Zealand Football Foundation - who helped with the costs of her trial at USV Jena - played a massive part in helping her secure a contract, and that she was eternally grateful for it.
She is one of three players who have left the FFDP for professional deals, joining Katie Rood and Jana Radosavljevic, and she hopes more will follow shortly.
"It's a huge boost [being a professional]," said Bott.
"Obviously the competition is a lot intense and better overseas, so when we go into the international environment, it's not going to be such a big jump for us younger players, whereas being domestic based, it does provide a bit of a challenge. In the years going forward, it would be great to get more players overseas."
For now, the Ferns have 13 professionals in their current squad, the most they have ever had. It's the kind of progress that leaves Bott, and the rest of the team, excited about what lies ahead, starting with the coming games against the US, on Saturday (kickoff 2pm) and Wednesday (kickoff 11.30am).
"It'll be a really good challenge for us, because they are the world No 1.
"We've had some time off, and everyone's kind of rearing to go. There's nothing but excitement within the group and we're really eager for the two games coming up."
Football Ferns' tour of the US
Game one: Saturday, 2pm (NZ time); Dick's Sporting Goods Park; Denver, Colorado
Game two: Wednesday, 11.30am (NZ time); Nippert Stadium; Cincinnati, Ohio