Dhruvan Nair, Undergraduate Batch of 2021 and Ashwin Menon, Undergraduate Batch of 2022 The end of
Anantaajith Ra, Undergraduate 2021
Ashoka’s Women’s Football Team has time and again brought our University plenty of plaudits, along with several trophies. In the 2019-20 season alone, the team has come up with a number of outstanding performances, reaching the final in all three official tournaments they have competed in. Additionally, they have also secured the winner’s trophy at the Triquetra Sports Fest ’19 (jointly hosted by IIIT Delhi, DTU and NSIT) and Breeze ’20 (hosted by Shiv Nadar University).
The last competition in particular saw the team put together a few unbelievable displays, characterised by a blistering attack that recorded 13 goals and a water-tight defense that conceded just one goal throughout the course of the tournament. Ashoka saw off GGSIPU 2-0 in their first group-stage match before decimating IIIT-D 5-0 in the second, to book their place in the semi-finals. Another solid performance there saw the team secure a 2-0 victory over Amity Noida, before an excellent all-round performance saw Ashoka overcome LSR 4-1 in the finals to clinch the title at Breeze for the third year in succession.
The Edict sat down with the Player of the Tournament at Breeze ’20, Radha Gupta, who scored five goals in the tournament for Ashoka, including a hat-trick in the drubbing of IIIT-D, for a conversation about the tournament, the team’s preparations and what we can expect from this talented group of players in the future.
Ashoka Women’s Football team have won three times on the bounce at Breeze. What do you think has helped the team keep up such consistency?
Firstly, I think Breeze is not an easy tournament to win. We play against teams that are physically very strong and practice as much as us, if not more. Under the able leadership of our captain and our coaches, I feel our entire team is driven and motivated to practice hard and grind out wins in crucial junctions. We make sure to brush up on all aspects of the game, be it on-field stamina and skills, or off-the-field strategy and team chemistry. Of late, confidence in our own game, along with plenty of hard work and a little superstition has proved to be the winning combination!
You mentioned “superstition”. Does the team have any ritual(s) that you do in the build-up to every match?
Apart from the usual “3,2,1… ASHOKA!”, we don’t really have one specific pre-game ritual. Having said that, we do have a few quirky superstitions that some of us are super serious about. In a tournament, our preparation for each game has to be identical – be it our kit or when exactly we do our cheer.
For instance, if someone accidentally forgets to wear their shin guards in the first game, they cannot wear them for any of the following games in that tournament. At Breeze this year, our captain, Ananya whipped out her captain’s armband to wear it in the finals, but my team-mate Anushka and I, being the superstition police that we are, told her she cannot wear it since she hadn’t worn it for any of the preceding matches. We won 4-1 in the finals – what else can I say?
What are some of the attributes you feel have helped the team thrive in tournaments?
I truly believe that how a team bonds off the field has a direct impact on its performances on the field. Not only do we place complete trust in each other, we also have 100% confidence in each others’ abilities to put the ball in the back of the net or keep it out of our own. We play a passing game which, one can argue, requires more technique, patience and confidence. However, it ensures that we don’t get flustered under pressure in crunch situations. Our attitude towards all our games also helps our results. We take it one game at a time and play our natural game in as spirited a manner as possible.
How do you prepare mentally before such tournaments?
Honestly, we sleep a lot. In the bus, on the field, on random sofas we find. We talk a lot too. I think it’s very important to communicate how we plan to approach a tournament with each other. We discuss which strategies to implement and what game-plans to execute. We also just listen to music and chat to unwind before games – I don’t think anyone on our team gets too stressed or nervous before tournaments or big games. To prepare mentally before big tournaments, I believe the team needs to be on the same page in terms of attitude and confidence, and we ensure just that.
What are the biggest challenges you think the team faces?
I think one of the biggest challenges our team faces is that we do not get enough competitive fixtures with other college teams. Many tournaments do not even have a women’s football category which reduces the number of matches we play. This could easily lead to inexperience when our team faces tough oppositions like Tika Ram (College of Education, Sonipat), for example. A bigger issue faced by Ashoka Women’s Football, in general, is that there are so many girls on campus who have played football in school and still enjoy playing, but do not end up attending practice sessions. I meet many people who tell me they want to join practice but never end up doing so. To anyone on campus who is reading this and loves the sport, please come play! Don’t be afraid that you “won’t be good enough to play” or “don’t know how to play” – we all learn through practice. Please get in touch with anyone from the women’s football team if you want to start attending practice sessions. It’s really good exercise and I assure you that these are some of the coolest girls you’ll meet!
If you had to pick one match or tournament that stands out in your mind out of the team’s numerous accomplishments over the last year, which one would it be? Why?
I think it would have to be the finals we played at Breeze this year, against LSR. Our team has played them on numerous occasions over a span of two years now. They have national-level players in their ranks who always pose a rather stiff competition for us. Our games in the past have always been neck and neck, either going into penalties or ending in a draw. This time around, the game began in the same manner. It was a tough battle with both teams playing a physical game. We made sure we dictated the play, forcing them to chase the ball. A patient and confident passing game meant we took a 2-0 lead at half time. Yet, we made sure we did not become overconfident. We stuck to our game plan and at the beginning of the second half, we converted a penalty and added to our lead. It was in this match that we really felt like a tight-knit unit, playing our best game. Towards the end, LSR dragged one back, to make it 3-1. We knew that there were only a couple of minutes left and we could easily see out the game for a comfortable win. But, we decided against changing our style of play and kept up our intensity. With the next play, we scored again! We had a civilized team celebration in the middle of the field, but naturally, we were internally buzzing, which still gives me goosebumps to think about.
So yes, I think this is the match that stands out in my mind as not only did it give us a good head-to-head advantage over LSR, but also reinforced the confidence in our style of play and boosted team chemistry.
And finally, what are your future expectations from yourself and from the team?
Individually, I hope to spend at least two more enjoyable and fruitful years with the team. With some consistent funding and backing, I believe we can genuinely maintain and build on our successful track record from the last 6 months. My future expectations for the team would be to have a good turnout for every single practice session and to showcase some top-quality football to whoever might watch us play. It would also be quite awesome to consolidate ourselves as the number one threat when it comes to women’s football at the University level.
On a more micro level, I do hope that all the girls on the team can bond even further and develop relationships that last not only off the field, but even after we all graduate from Ashoka.