Willow Neal to compete with Eastcoast Eagles at Futsal World Championships

Willow Neal playing with the winning team, Eastcoast Eagles, at the Australian Futsal Championships this year

Willow Neal playing with the winning team, Eastcoast Eagles, at the Australian Futsal Championships this year

Asked to nominate her favourite sport from the many she excels at, Bellingen High student Willow Neal said she couldn't choose between futsal and soccer.

Futsal, which is basically indoor soccer, gives a compact, quicker game while soccer feels more spacious, she said.

"Futsal and soccer are pretty equal. I don't really have a favourite."

But it is futsal that is taking her overseas to compete at an international level.

In July, Willow will be flying to Orlando, Florida for the Futsal World Championships with her Port Macquarie-based team, the Eastcoast Eagles.

After winning the Open Women's Champions title at the Australian National Futsal Championships this year and last year, the Eastcoast Eagles received an invitation to play in the world championships in Florida.

It's the first time an Australian women's team has been invited, and it's a full-blown affair involving 120 teams and opening and closing ceremonies.

Willow is one of the youngest on her team, whose ages range from 16 to 26, and was encouraged to try out for a place after being coached by other members.

"I was selected from a school tournament to compete with Far Northern NSW 15s Girls at the nationals," she said. "From there, I was coached by some of the girls who are my teammates now.

"They said 'come to these trials' and I did and I made the team. My first tournament with them was at the nationals in 2018."

Willow travels to Port Macquarie for training every fortnight, usually getting a lift with teammates who live north of her.

She also plays futsal and soccer for Bellingen High and competes in cross country and athletics as well.

In January, Willow was named the shire's Junior Sportsperson of the Year, with the citation noting that "In athletics, Willow was the Bellingen High School and Mid North Coast age champion as well as being part of the North Coast 4x400m team that came second at the NSW State Championships. Similarly, Willow was age champion at Bellingen High, Mid North Coast and North Coast in cross country. In both these areas Willow has represented the region at the state titles in multiple years."

Mention was also made of the "skill, teamwork and sportsmanship" that makes her a great role model and how she "willingly assists with training of younger players and athletes and is always giving tips and encouragement to others".

Willow said she will have time for some sightseeing before the championships start on July 23 at the ESPN Sports Complex at Disney World.

"I'm very excited," she said. "It's going to be a good tournament and I'm going with a bunch of great girls -we're all really close. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Bellingen High Champion 16 years Futsal team 2018 with Willow Neal front right.
Back row - Paloma Birch, Emelie Ruming, Shellby Osland, Tallara Doye, Willow Berry, Sophie Boyd. Front row - Brynne Couper, Ashley Sticker, Mia Craggs, Willow Neal

Bellingen High Champion 16 years Futsal team 2018 with Willow Neal front right. Back row - Paloma Birch, Emelie Ruming, Shellby Osland, Tallara Doye, Willow Berry, Sophie Boyd. Front row - Brynne Couper, Ashley Sticker, Mia Craggs, Willow Neal

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