Hearts open pathway to first-team as talented teenagers seal treble

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Coach explains secret behind Hearts’ success as under-16 girls sweep all before them

A treble is a difficult feat for any side to achieve, but Hearts Under-16s girls seemed to have little trouble at completing such a monumental task.

Under the guidance of manager Nichola Sturrock and co-coach Jillian Leaper, the Jam Tarts had already lifted the league title as well as the Scottish Cup as they prepared for the National Aacaedy Programme (NAP) cup final last weekend. Taking on a Hamilton side who had finished third in the league, the Gorgie side had a nervy first half before going on to lift the cup in style. Goals from Jessica Husband, Emily Shanks and Amelie Chomczuk in the second period gave Hearts a 3-0 emphatic victory to seal a famous treble.

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“It’s a nice occasion to end what has been an exciting season for the girls,” Sturrock told the Edinburgh Evening News. “Jilian and I were delighted for them to go out in the second half perform well and get that victory. It was a nice end to what was an overall good season.

“We tried as much as possible to take that pressure element of that away from the girls because they are obviously a young group. We wanted to take away that pressure of it being the treble. It was a cup final at the end of the day and anything can happen. We just tried to prepare the girls as best as possible for a game of football against an opposition that we have played a few times this season already. That might have taken the pressure a bit off them in that respect.”

Hearts were ruthless on their way to completing the treble. Across their entire league campaign, the side only dropped four points. Victories such as their 7-0 win against Glasgow City and a 9-0 demolition of Capital rivals Hutchison Vale put them on track early in their campaign. Combine this with their previous toppling of Hamilton in the Scottish Cup final last December and it becomes clear that these girls are a force to be reckoned with.

“It's been a long season and the record that the group have been able to maintain is quite remarkable,” Sturrock explained. “It has been a real squad effort. We a really lucky that we have good depth in the squad. That has given us the ability to manage situations like if the players are at school, international call-ups, injury or illness. We have a squad that is able to rally around and provide the same amount of quality on the pitch regardless of the 11 that we put onto the team sheet.

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“We have provided a lot of the off-pitch stuff and the club has backed us in terms of the resources and the investment that is being put into the academy. An important thing is to make sure that we get the off-pitch stuff right, supporting the girls and making sure they have a platform so they can go and perform on the pitch. Giving them an environment where they are supported, valued and really have that togetherness.

Hearts celebrate their NAP Cup final win as they complete the treble. Credit: Ger Harley, SportPixHearts celebrate their NAP Cup final win as they complete the treble. Credit: Ger Harley, SportPix
Hearts celebrate their NAP Cup final win as they complete the treble. Credit: Ger Harley, SportPix

“It is a competitive squad and it can be difficult to keep 18 players happy over the course of the season and that has been a really important factor for us. Making every single player feel valued and helping them individually to develop and improve. Ultimately we are here to help them develop on their individual journey as well as to try and get them to perform as a team on the pitch.”

The performances of the players over the season have also been noticed elsewhere. Many in the squad are now in the international youth set up for their countries as they continue to perform magnificently. Back in January, the amount of potential the side has was on full display as seven of the eight goals Scotland Under 16s put past Liechtenstein were made in Gorgie. Some players even caught the eye of Hearts first team manager Eva Olid, with Olivia Chomczuk being rewarded for her excellent season as she made her senior debut against Rangers in early May. As the team continue to rise the ranks, Sturrock hopes to see more of her talented squad push for a place in the women’s first team.

“It is exciting, there is absolutely potential within this group,” she added. “One of the key things that we continue to remind them is that they have to work hard. Nothing in life will come easy for them. A large part of our job is to continue to support and develop that potential but to also make sure we manage it in the right way. That helps them focus on continuing to be the best version of themselves and giving 110%.

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“We are always proud of the achievements the girls have attained and have. There are so many involved in the international step-up over the last year or so and it has been tremendous to see. It is something we hope will continue to happen, but the girls know that they need to continue to work hard if they want to see those opportunities continue in the future.

“We have played such a small part in these girls' journeys. It is nice to be part of that moment to see the players that we have been working with stepping into the first-team environment and making their debut. It is so rewarding for Olivia. It is richly deserved, she has been fantastic for us all season. She is a huge talent, it is nice to see from a club’s perspective and that pathway come to life.

“It was exciting for everybody, and we are absolutely delighted for her. Hopefully, it is not the last debut to come from the academy and certainly, the group we have been lucky enough to support this season.”

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