Midfielder sees team rise to take on the best

Mikayla Gray. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Mikayla Gray. Photo: Peter McIntosh
It is a good thing Mikayla Gray likes Dunedin.

That was a large factor in the 19-year-old's decision to remain in the South for university.

The Southern United midfielder had thought about heading to the United States after finishing at Columba College.

But she decided to stay home - a decision that no doubt pleased both Southern and Dunedin Technical.

The first-year physical education student has been in impressive form in this year's national women's league.

A constant threat with the ball at her feet, she has proved she can set up attacking moves and has also netted two goals.

It is form she will hope to continue against WaiBOP at Logan Park tomorrow.

Southern remains in the mix for a final spot with five rounds left.

It is something it has been building towards for several years.

For Gray, now in her fifth year with the team, it was a significant contrast to when she began.

"It's crazy to think we used to be consistently at the bottom of the table and now we're competing with the top teams, having really close games with them," she said.

"It's pretty amazing to be able to compete with all those New Zealand-team players.

"Each game we go in with the attitude knowing that if we perform, we can beat them, so it's cool to be part of that."

Not only did those performances lift the team's standing in the league, they lifted the reputation of its players.

That helped Southern players get opportunities at national level.

One of those came Gray's way earlier in the year, when she attended a New Zealand under-20 talent identification camp.

While she had not made that team, she had been happy with how she played.

Alongside learning new things, it confirmed she was capable of competing with the best in the country.

It was not just her that she felt was benefiting from the success.

"It's really good that Southern's been winning games to show we can compete and we deserve to be looked at.

"There's really quality players down here and we should be getting opportunities for those teams, so that's cool."

She was expecting a tough challenge from WaiBOP, which had a handful of close losses in its recent games.

Last time the sides met, only an Amy Hislop penalty separated them, although Southern had created plenty of chances.

It is essentially a must-win for the side if it is to make the final.

With four games to play, it is fourth on 13 points, two behind Northern and Auckland - although Northern has a game in hand.

Southern still has to play both, giving it an opportunity to edge into second place.

It will probably have to win all its games, and Gray said that remained the team's focus.

Tomorrow's game will kick off at noon.

National women’s league

Southern Utd v WaiBOP
Logan Park
Today, noon

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