When Naha FC finished the Solomon Islands pre-season tournament in seventh place, they hardly expected to be vying for the championship title just a few months later.
But the side is now one match away from snatching the inaugural Solrais Women’s Premier League title from current leaders RSIPF Royals, far exceeding their expectations for the season.
Naha have lost just two matches so far, both in the first round of competition, to top three sides RSIPF Royals and Koloale FC. In round two, the young side have already knocked off the pre-season champions Koloale 2-1 to secure second place in the standings and keep their title dream alive.
For club captain Jenelle Fakasori, the run so far was unimaginable when the Premier League kicked off in August.
“So far this season Team Naha have achieved more than expected and it can be shown from the current standings. At first, we participated in the pre-season 7-a-Side and we came 7th of the 12 teams participating and won the Fairplay trophy.
“This was the start of Naha’s achievements in 2020. Initially, at the beginning of this proper league in round one, winning was not the priority, but we hoped to finish in the top three,” she said.
“Seeing where the team is now is a bonus.”
Fakasori credits Naha’s success to the club’s management and coaches, as well as the players.
“Our achievements so far is all because we have the right management and coaches who have the heart for women’s football and want to see women’s football rise to another level in Solomon Islands,” Fakasori said.
“They have dedicated their time and believe in each of us, which motivated the team to take it game by game, and they made it clear to the entire team that this season will be about setting the right foundations and learning the basics of football. These are key objectives for this first year of the team, in a three-year plan.”
Naha FC has several experienced players but the majority of the squad are participating in a league for the first time – they’re also being led by first-time coach, Solomon Islands international Dennis Ifuanoa.
Although Ifuanoa is balancing coaching alongside his playing career, he continues to play a crucial role for Solomon Warriors in the S-League, the improvement in the squad’s performances is evident in the results they are achieving.
“What has really assisted with the players’ development over the season is their willingness to learn, listen, follow instructions and attend trainings. All of them are new to football, maybe just four or five players were already playing football, and that has made it easy for the management and coaching staff to deal with.”
Part of Ifuanoa’s process is empowering his players to take responsibility for their development, and at the start of the season he asked each of them to state their individual goal, team goal, and what they want to achieve from the league.
“It’s an idea I learned from my experience as a player; I wanted to see how each player will do,” he said.
One of the turning points for Naha was the victory over Koalale on November 8, not only because it put the team in contention for the title, but it highlights the developmental progress of the squad throughout the season.
“When we lost to them in the first round of the league, we went back and worked on the areas where we needed to improve,” explained Ifuanoa.
“Coming back in the second round and beating them, the biggest difference is that the girls really played their hearts out, stuck to the system we learned and the outcome was our win.”
Fakasori said that match has been the highlight of her season so far.
“My favourite experience was playing against Koloale in round two. I was so happy we won, even the rest of the team were happy because we made history by beating them,” she said.
This weekend is another opportunity for Naha to make history, and Ifuanoa is optimistic about his team’s chances.
“We have taken every match in round two as a final. Royals is a tough team, good players and some national reps, so our approach is to stick to our system of play and to get my girls ready like every other game.”
Naha will take on RSIPF Royals this Sunday, November 22, at DC Park in the title decider for the 2020 Solrais Women’s Premier League. Kick-off is scheduled for 4pm.