At just 23, Ashley Weld was the elder stateswoman of the WaiBOP women's football team.

The side has just not long completed its 2018 campaign and for the Te Puke woman it was her debut season with the federation's senior National Women's League side.

Weld started playing for Te Puke United FC when she was 8 and first played at federation level as an under-12 player.

A stint at university had her playing for Claudelands, but injury forced her out of the game for over a year.

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"I had a knee injury, which kind of set me back, so with that I've taken up coaching more, but as it got better decided to get back into playing," Weld says.

Leaving university, she decided to return to Te Puke to take up dairy farming. That also meant she returned to her home town football club and she was part of this season's Bay 1 title-winning side, scoring all five of her team's goals in the final outing of the season.

"I thought I'd give WaiBOP a go this year and ended up being one of the oldest girls in the team."

Among her teammates were Georgia Candy, Grace Wisnewski and Kelli Brown, who were part of the New Zealand Under-17 squad that took third place in the Fifa Women's Under-17 world cup in Uruguay.

Ashley hopes the young WaiBOP squad has the makings of a title-winning team.

Te Puke footballer Ashley Weld has just finished the season with the WaiBOP women's team in the National Women's League. Photo / Stuart Whitaker
Te Puke footballer Ashley Weld has just finished the season with the WaiBOP women's team in the National Women's League. Photo / Stuart Whitaker

She made it into the squad of 23 after trials in Hamilton and Tauranga before the season started.

The midfielder/centre back wasn't an automatic first choice at the start of the season.

"I wasn't getting much game time and had to prove myself. Michael Mayne, the head coach, he hadn't really seen me play before. There were those two trials, that's all he saw of me, then we had a few trainings and the first game started.

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"It took a while for me to prove that I needed to be on the field. Once we got three or four games into the season, then I was starting and playing full games."

Being older than many in the team gave her an advantage.

"The younger girls do get nervous coming up to game day. I've not been playing at that level, but I've been in so many different game situations I can be calm about certain things and can handle the pressure of it all."

The team trained in both Hamilton and Tauranga, and the trickiest thing was to get time away from work to go to train in Hamilton each Thursday.

"But I really enjoyed the travel to games — we played in both Dunedin and Christchurch."

The last game of the season was against grand finalists Northern Lights. Despite taking the lead, WaiBOP were beaten 2-1. A week earlier they had drawn 1-all with then title-chasing Auckland.

"We have got better as the season has gone on, but we lost some players to the under-17 squad and there have been some injuries that have affected us."

Primarily a defender, Weld says her reading of the game is best from the back. She says as well as playing, she enjoys being in a team environment and the socialising that comes with it.

She is pleased to see women's football get a bigger slice of the spotlight and it isn't just the exploits of the national under-17 side that has helped give the women's game a higher profile.

"The regions have been pushing female football, having female co-ordinators and role models for female development."

She says that some female players will benefit from all-girls teams and competitions, while others benefit from playing in mixed teams and parents are more at ease with daughters playing in all-girls teams.

"People believe that girls playing with girls, they are able to relax and they enjoy it more than playing with the boys, but then there are the girls who enjoy playing with the boys because they enjoy that physical component of it.

"I was always in mixed teams and I think it helped me a lot to become stronger."

Weld would like to play at the national league level again in 2019, and would like to go further with her coaching.

"I'm youth and senior qualified and hopefully I can take that up further. Playing-wise, if opportunities come, then I'll take them, but I've settled on dairy farming as a career at the moment and to make an income at the same level [from football] I'd have to move overseas.

"But I definitely want to keep going with WaiBOP as well. I've really enjoyed playing at that level."

She could also see herself going into administration.

"I'd be quite interested in that and promoting football and getting more people playing and helping the club grow.

"The club has given me these opportunities and got me to this point. I wouldn't have been able to get there without the club and my parents."