When three of Victoria’s best young players, Claudia Mihocic, Alana Jancevski, and Sofia Sakalis were signed up for the upcoming A-League Women season, it was of no surprise given their talent and potential.
That they were all signed up to Perth Glory was a signal of intent for the club and the result of almost a year’s worth of work, scouting, and communication between the coach and the player’s management.
Alana Jancevksi, Claudia Mihocic and Sofia Sakalis are headed west together. After impressive NPLW performances and making impacts with the Young Matildas, they are ready to step up to the next level.
Perth began last season in difficult circumstances. Border restrictions heavily limited recruitment and pre-season training.
This season, coach Alex Epakis got on the front foot early. A scouting mission to Melbourne mid-year yielded meetings with the players and their eventual recruitment.
The Glory have landed themselves depth and talent. They have one of the most promising midfielders in the country, a striker with a damaging left foot, and an NPLW captain at just 18.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, the three up and coming youngsters detail their path to signing their first top level contracts.
“Out of your comfort zone is where you grow the most”
That faith in the younger players is part of what drew the three Victorians to the project.
“I had a few discussions with Alex,” Sakalis told The Inner Sanctum.
“His vision and the way he wanted to play football excited me. I think I was just in need of a new challenge and a new environment.
“I believe that getting out of your comfort zone allows you to grow more and thrive in your environment, from my view that’s why it was so appealing.”
Sakalis is the most experienced of the three at senior level. Despite being only 18 she has been in the Melbourne City squad since 2017.
Signing for Glory means a new beginning both on and off the field for the classy midfielder.
“Now I’m in my first year of university it was also appealing that it was far away from Melbourne,” she said.
“Just to detach yourself from your home state… and starting fresh.”
As testament not just to their potential, but also their ability, Glory recruited the players very early on in the off-season with two-year contracts.
However, there is more to consider to the length of the deal according to their manager Dean Georgio.
“We matched up the right players to the right environments,” he says from Melbourne.
“It’s not just getting a contract but looking at the coach profile and his philosophy…which players fit the coach and vice versa.
“Alex’s plan was integral to the signing of these players.”
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Defender Claudia Mihocic gained confidence from Epakis’ track record.
“Alex’s ability to trust in his younger players is definitely something that really sold the Perth deal for me,” she said.
“I saw last year a few of the girls that I know who already play for Perth.
“He had faith in them, he wasn’t scared to start them and give them minutes. I feel especially as a young player that’s something that’s really vital.
“A lot of coaches can steer clear of that, but having a mix of a very young team and very experienced team showed me that he could put faith in me and the other younger girls to play.
“That was definitely a big factor in it. The way he came about, seeking out the girls from Victoria was really cool because he branched out.”
Alana Jancevski echoed these sentiments. She will add to a revamped, dangerous-looking Perth attack featuring Gemma Craine and Hana Lowry.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the w league, I’ve always strived for it,” she said from Perth quarantine.
“Seeing the respect and the want from Alex to have me as a player drove my choice and I think the values he possesses and what he wanted from the team is really appealing.
“Out of your comfort zone is where you grow the most.
“Moving to Perth isn’t an easy one and it’s going to be a challenge, but I think it’s needed to grow as a player and a person.”
Three of the best
The players that Perth is adding are among the brightest young talents in Victoria. All have been developed at the National Training Centre (NTC) before making an impact at NPLW level.
Each has represented Australia at youth level and are regarded as future Matildas.
Jancevski is an attacker with a rocket of a left foot and a good burst of pace. Viewers of the Young Matildas will recall a 30-yard missile that found the back of the net against Thailand in 2018.
Before the league was canceled due to COVID she celebrated her Perth deal with a great goal for Bulleen from the edge of the area.
The composed, powerful finish provided an exciting preview for fans of the Glory.
Mihocic is the captain of FV Emerging, the home of some of the best young players in the state. She’s a modern centre back, just as adept at building play as she is at stopping it.
Sakalis is a goalscoring midfielder, and the prospect of her linking up with Hana Lowry behind the strikers is an exciting one.
She models herself on Kim Little, and was able to train alongside the Arsenal star at Melbourne City.
“She’s a very similar position to what I am as well,” Sakalis said.
“I love watching her games and analysing the way she plays, I think she’s just an extraordinary player.”
“There’s definitely more expectation”
The three youngsters have come through the ranks together. They expect their familiarity to help them adapt to WA.
“Playing together at various times in our career is very important,” Jancevski said.
“Being from the same state is going to help in many ways… I think we all respect each other a lot and we’re good friends.
“I think that’s going a long way mixing with the other girls and making a better team.”
Mihocic feels ready for the challenge ahead. As a defender, she is eager to test herself against some of the best strikers in the competition.
“I’d be happy to get any minutes,” she said of her expectations for the season ahead.
“There’s a lot of really skillful players and technical players that will try and weave through me, maybe try and get a couple of nutmegs, but I think just to get any game time and come up against good quality strikers will make me a better defender.”
Mihocic is aware that the stage is bigger and the stakes are higher in the A-League Women. She feels equipped to handle the step up to the top level after previously training with Melbourne Victory.
“I think also going from train-on to contracted player, there’s a bit of that additional pressure on you. (It) pushes you to thrive in the moment,” she said.
“I think the exposure to the W-League that we’ve had through the train-on environment will kind of ease us into it. There’s definitely more expectation and pressure, but in a good way.”
As the most experienced senior player, Sakalis is confident in her fellow Victorians.
“It’s quite a young squad here in Perth,” she said.
“Obviously the girls have been train-ons as well in a W-League environment, so they have been exposed to that professionalism and the standard that coaches expect from you.
“Every team has its own values and what they expect from you, and I think Alex’s playing style is very different.
“But I think that exposure from that environment will put them in good stead.”
The season ahead
They all know there is hard work ahead. But they are buoyed by the confidence instilled in them by their new coach and the direction of the club.
“He’s single-handedly picked out so many young players,” Sakalis said.
“It shows how much trust he has in the youth and where he wants to go with the team.”
Young players dominate the Glory roster, but they will be supported by experienced campaigners. Mihocic is eager to train alongside one of the best center backs in the league.
“I’m looking forward to learning from Kim Carroll,” she said.
“I feel like she is a very experienced player, a very talented player, and a great leader. I’m looking forward to learning a lot from her.”
Sakalis and Jancevski will add value to a revamped front third. Both are eager to contribute in any way they can alongside fellow recruit Susan Phonsongkham and the returning Gemma Craine.
“It’ll be great to get minutes,” Jancevski said.
“I’m really looking forward to learning off those girls and being teammates. Hopefully, I can have a great impact and score some goals.
“Gemma Craine is one of them, a really talented player, physical, strong, really skillful. She’s older with that experience so I think learning off her will be great for me as a player.”
Out on their own
The project at Perth is of great appeal to the new recruits. Off-field, they hope to grow as people as well as footballers.
“Gaining some independence,” answers Mihicic when asked what she is looking forward to.
“Living away from family and learning everything you’ve got to do to live alone.
“I’m going to have to start doing my own washing, cooking, all that type of stuff, and kind of learn what it’s like to be on my own a little bit.”
Sakalis agrees. They have all traveled before but this is a new beginning.
“Independence is such a huge one, “ she says.
“We’ve been living with our families for so long, just learning how to do little stuff. The biggest thing is when you detach yourself from what you’re used to you can really focus on football.
“I think that’s something I’m really looking forward to, having no distractions.”
Sakalis and Jancevski have just spent two weeks in shared isolation as they prepare to enter Perth. It is an experience that the striker expects will help them adjust to adult life.
“We’ve had a little taste of it in quarantine,” she laughs.
“I think that will work wonders for us.”
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