St. Kitts and Nevis debuting in Concacaf Women’s Olympic qualifying
Islanders impressed in preliminary round scoring 20 goals in four matches
New coach Jene Baclawski: “It’s a dream and an honour”
Twelve months ago, very few football fans in St. Kitts and Nevis could have imagined that their women’s team would be entertaining hopes of a place at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The fact is, however, that the Caribbean islanders are among the eight national teams that will fight it out in the Concacaf qualifying competition for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament later this year. And it was back in January 2019 when the St. Kitts and Nevis Football Association contacted Jene Baclawski, the coach who is now helping to fire the dreams of the small island nation.
“It took a long time for it all to get confirmed,” explained Baclawski, who divides her time between her new post and her work with the South Texas Youth Football Association. “The first time I met the players was in September, in time for the first round of the Olympic qualifiers. It’s a dream and an honour to be considered for the job of coaching this fantastic group of women and developing football in St. Kitts and Nevis.”
It proved to be a happy beginning for Baclawski and her players as they won through to the final round after scoring 20 goals in their four games and conceding only two. It was quite an achievement for a country with only 55,000 inhabitants.
“Our style of play is to adapt ourselves to the opposition,” said Sugar Girlz captain Kyra Dickinson. “We work hard on the high press and the low block too. We like to play a direct game, impose ourselves physically and keep the ball, though it all depends on the match situation. Ideally what we like to do is put the ball in the back of the net as quickly as we can.”
St. Kitts and Nevis have been drawn in Group B with Mexico, Canada and Jamaica, three teams with lots of experience. So what concerns do the islanders have ahead of it all?
“It’s going to be a huge challenge,” said the coach before discussing their preparations. “One of the things that we’ve spoken about as a team is how organised we need to be to succeed. We have to prepare ourselves in three key areas: tactics, mindset and physical strength. We’ve had nine days together to work on things. Canada, Mexico and Jamaica have a lot more experience in international competitions, but we also have the advantage of being unknowns. They don’t really know what they’re going to come up against.”
Captain Dickinson has also been doing her bit to help her team-mates: “I just try to back up the whole mental side of our preparations. We’ve all got the technical skills we need to play, so my job is just to motivate. I like to spend time with all the players and check that they’re OK, because if you feel good then you can go out and play your game.”
If there is one thing that Baclawski has clear in her mind, it is that whatever happens between 29 January and 4 February her team will have lots of lessons to learn from for the future.
“They’re a very young side. Over half of them are U-20s,” she explained. “There will be times when they’ll make mistakes and when we’ll have to rebuild their confidence. It’s going to be a process that will definitely stand them in good stead for the future, which ties in perfectly with the essence of what the FA wants to achieve.”
So how far do the Sugar Girls want to go? Dickinson is in no doubt: “Every team is hoping to make it to Tokyo. We can’t all go, unfortunately, but that’s our major objective. We’ll be giving it our all on the pitch to make it to Japan this year.”
The Concacaf qualifiers, which feature reigning world champions USA, kick-off on Tuesday 28 January. Keep right up to date with the competition and relive the action in our Visual Story.