Team Ritesh Whanganui will finish 2019 with a season honour as their brilliant striker Vanya Apiata-Hodgkinson was officially confirmed as the Golden Boot winner for the Women's Federation League, after the season finally wrapped up yesterday.
Whanganui had finished their respectable campaign with a 5-5-5 record back on August 18 after a 9-0 shutout of Feilding United, which included Apiata-Hodgkinson scoring her 15th goal for the season.
At that stage, she was three goals ahead of the other contenders from Massey University FC and the undefeated champions-in-waiting Hokowhitu FC, however their respective matches on the same day against Palmerston North Marist and Taradale FC were rained out.
This resulted in extending the season out nearly another month with rescheduled games, as Taradale were also in the Federation Cup final against New Plymouth's Moturoa AFC on August 25.
Massey got their match in first against PN Marist and despite the 2-0 win at Memorial Park, their leading scorer could only add one more to her tally to finish on 13.
However, the victory did mean Massey surpassed Whanganui to take third place on the table by a narrow positive points differential of two more goals.
Undefeated Hokowhitu (13-2-0) then completed their banner season with a 3-0 win over distant runnersup Taradale (7-4-4) at Skoglund Park, but also with different goal scorers.
There was still one rescheduled match to be played from earlier in the year, as Taradale hosted Feilding United on Sunday, and despite the 7-1 thrashing, no individual was near to Apiata-Hodgkinson's tally.
"We had a good idea a few weeks back when Massey played Marist," said coach Matt Calvert.
"It was unofficially announced then that she'd won it.
"What a fantastic achievement, I think it's something really good for recognising how the team has gone this year.
"With Vanya, she spoke a lot at the start of the season about what she had to do, and that's score more goals.
"It's all the little things with Vanya, that others don't see."
The coach said Apiata-Hodgkinson was one of his most disciplined players when it came to training attendance, gym work, and a sensible diet, which was even more impressive after the striker learned in the latter part of the campaign that she was pregnant.
The national women's coach had also taken an interest in the striker before the pregnancy was known, Calvert said.
"Proud of her, hope it's the first of many seasons scoring goals."
Averaging a goal per game, which is what a football team in any league would want from their forward, Apiata-Hodgkinson's worth to the team was much more than just scoring productivity.
Teams ratcheted up their individual tallies against the wooden-spooners Feilding United, who are unlikely to return in 2020 as their results got worse as the season progressed, conceeding 91 goals to ten scored.
However, Whanganui's three games with Feilding only contributed four goals to Apiata-Hodgkinson's tally, as she saved her best for the tough matches.
There were equalising goals in the draws with Taradale and Marist, the latter coming inside the last minute of play, while there was a double in the 3-2 away win over Massey and another in the 3-2 away defeat in the third match with Hokowhitu – leading the future champs 2-1 at halftime.
While no doubt the franchise player, Apiata-Hodgkinson was assisted by her team mates also stepping up this year, after their previous two League campaigns yielded only two wins and two draws combined.
"We've also got other people who can score in a game, which we didn't have in other years," said Calvert.
Collectively, the team got 37 goals in League play.
Alice Ireton and Dana Mclelland scored five goals each, while Eva Thompson got four in her debut season.
The other multiple scorers were Rose Davidson (3) and Emma Wood (2).
Their team mates in goalkeeper Megan O'Connor and forward Candice Armstrong were also selected to trial for the Central National League squad.
Calvert said he would like Moturoa AFC to join the League next season, as they proved themselves more than worthy by travelling to beat 2018's Federation Cup holders Taradale FC – 2-0 after extra time in the final.
The Taranaki club had also upset Hokowhitu 1-0 back on June 2 in a home quarterfinal, which was Hokowhitu's only loss of the year.
Whanganui started their Cup run with a 3-0 home win over St Matthew's Collegiate 1st XI, but were beaten 2-0 by Massey in the quarterfinals.