Report by David Brenchley
Page last updated at 11:16PM GMT, Monday, 19 March 2012
One absentee from the Charlton Women’s team this term has been midfielder Grace Coombs, who has been with Charlton since being in the Centre of Excellence – save for a year with West Ham.
Last summer Grace moved to America on a scholarship with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, studying public health and playing for their women’s soccer team.
The Minutewomen impressed last season, making the final of the Atlantic 10 Tournament where they lost 5-1 to reigning champions Dayton, and having their best season since 1997.
Grace was named Umass Athlete of the Week in September and we caught up with her over the Christmas break to see how she was getting on.
Q: How are you settling into life in America?
A: It took me a while because I got out there really late. They had already been there for about four weeks doing pre-season and I got there as soon as the season started. I got there and all the girls in my team were in the same dorm and it was the weekend before Hurricane Irene hit so we had to be moved to a low-rise dorm. We moved back in a week later and then I managed to settle but I knew everyone by then anyway.
Q: And how is the football over there?
A: It’s really different. It’s hard to explain how – it’s more technical and tactical. There is more attention to detail than here. We get scouting reports on every team so you know who their good players are and how they play, whereas here you only know that through playing them before.
Q: How has the season gone for you, on a personal note?
A: I got there late so I was behind with everyone anyway. Then the girl that was playing in my position got injured in my second or third game so they played me. I got quite a lot of playing time. Towards the end I wasn’t playing as well, so didn’t get as much playing time but I would still play some part of every game, which is good for a new player bearing in mind I missed a lot of the season.
Q: And for the team?
A: We did really well actually. We came third in the league and then it went to a play off system, so we had to play on the Thursday, Friday and Sunday. If we had finished in the top two we would only have played Friday and Sunday. The weekend before we lost to the team that ended up coming second so we had to play three games. The team we played in the second game hadn’t lost all season and we beat them so that was probably the best game of the season. We got to the final but didn’t do ourselves justice. I think playing all those games took its toll. We had the best season they have had since 1997 and we now have the goal to get to the final again next year.
Q: You won the Umass Athlete of the Week in September. Can you explain what that is and why you won it?
A: Every single week they do an athlete of the week. Normally, if a team gets a good result it is a player from that team. I think there ended up being four or five of us winning it throughout the season and on the Sunday when I won it, we played against Boston, who are ranked 20th in the country, beat them 1-0 and I scored so I think that is how it got decided. I got a nice plaque for it!
Q: Were you disappointed about missing out on the National Championships or would that just have been a bit of a bonus?
A: We weren’t thinking about it until it came about. It’s about, obviously winning games, but beating highly-ranked teams. We beat Boston so that was good for us and then we beat Le Salle in the semi finals and they were ranked in the 20s so that was good as well. But it’s about the teams you lose to as well, so if you lose to a team that is ranked really low that goes against you and we had a couple of bad results. Then in the final we lost quite heavily. If we had lost by maybe one or two goals it might have changed things.
Q: So do you have to wait until August for the next season to start then?
A: We have a spring season but they told me it is only five or six games. We will lose the senior players so we are losing about six of our best players so the spring about finding out new positions for people, seeing who can play where and fitting people in for next fall, when the season starts again.
Q: Are you looking forward to getting into pre-season training and having a full season with the squad?
A: I think I need that. It set me back a bit because their fitness levels were really high anyway and then there were questions whether I would go or not. Obviously I did pre-season at Charlton but Paul gets four hours a week whereas they would have four hours in one day.
Q: How much training do you do with the squad?
A: During the season we have Mondays off, Tuesdays we have one lifting session – we call it fitness Tuesday – we have training on Wednesday and Thursday but Thursday will be more tactical sessions – shadow-play, team-play and walk-throughs, where you walk out plays for the next day and look at their better players. Friday we play, Saturday we do light training and then Sunday we play.