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The pathway for excellence starts in Colchester as the two sets of successful trials for the Colchester United Ladies club and Girls Centre of Excellence prove.
The trials, held recently at the Shrub End Community and Sports Centre, were aimed at the under-10 age group through to senior level and saw over 200 players attend to compete for a place at the most successful women's club in the county.
First Team Manager Dmitri Halajko, along with his entourage of highly qualified coaches had the unenviable task of choosing who will make it to the next level and was amazed at the quality shown at the trials.
"The standard shown this year was the best we have ever seen and this just shows how much the ever increasing profile of women's football is improving the game at grassroots level," he said.
Although about 90% of the players were from the previous season's Centre of Excellence and Ladies Team squads, Dmitri explained how the selection process each year aids with the progress of the club: "Nobody is guaranteed a place and we always look to add two or three players who are from girls clubs around the region, this pushes the standard up and from the 150 who attended the girls trials we have asked 80 to come back for a second trial, only 65 players can be selected and this year it's going to be very tough job indeed."
The championship winning ladies side is also in a very healthy position and attracted players from the South East Combination and Premier League for this year's trials. With just 35 places available in the First and Reserve Team squads and a full Academy Player quota, Dmitri knows that this season he will be looking to other clubs to assist with ensuring every player gets match experience.
"We have a lot of youngsters coming in, 7 of the players have graduated to the Female Academy and we will want to look at loaning these and other players out to other clubs if they are not selected to compete in the Ladies squad," he added.
The pre-season training has now started in earnest with training twice a week on the fantastic 4th generation pitch at Shrub End and the ladies first friendly game will unusually be against Clacton Town men's team.
Dmitri explained his thinking behind this: "I want to prepare the girls for the tough physical nature of the Premier League and playing a men's team is the perfect way for them to experience this.
"We are looking for a respectable finish in the Premier League next season and we are not planning on just making up the numbers, the aim for next season is stability."
Behind the scenes, it's all systems go and with the season starting mid-August more help is needed - as the club is completely self financing, they rely on a band of dedicated volunteers to keep things ticking over, Dmitri added: "We need any volunteers who have some time to spare for a whole range of jobs, more importantly we are still looking for that vital sponsor as a suitable one has not yet been found, so if there is a company out there who wants to be associated with the best women's club in Essex, we want to hear from you."
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