Jaya Bowman’s first football memories are as one of three girls in an under-9 boys’ team for her former local club, the Milton-Ulladulla Panthers.
Now, after a move from the South Coast to Canberra, the 14-year-old has been selected in the Junior Matildas squad ahead of the first round of the Asian Football Confederation under-17 Women’s Asian Cup 2022 qualifiers.
Jaya has just completed her first training camp with 25 of Australia’s most promising female footballers in Sydney and will be eyeing a spot in the team for the qualifier at Cessnock in September.
Jaya said the opportunity to represent her country is the realisation of a dream since she first began playing.
“I was always competitive when I was young, so when I started playing soccer I just couldn’t get enough of it. I developed a love for the game and soon enough, my whole life began to revolve around it,” Jaya told Region Media.
“This is something I’ve been dreaming of since I fell in love with the game as an 8-year-old.
“It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to represent my country and play with the best as soon as I was old enough, so to achieve that goal and see all the hard work and sacrifice a lot of people in my life have made pay off is rewarding in itself.”
The sacrifices have included moving away from her family to board at Canberra Grammar so she can be closer to her home club, the Canberra United Academy.
Previously, Jaya and her family travelled the two-and-a-half hours from Ulladulla to Canberra four times a week for training and matches.
A defensive midfielder, Jaya said the training camp with the Junior Matildas is a huge step forward in her goal to eventually represent the Matildas, Australia’s national women’s team.
“Representing my country is something I’ve been working towards ever since I fell in love with football, but the idea of going to the Olympics gives me the most butterflies.
“The idea of representing my country on the world’s biggest stage for sport would mean something to me that I don’t think words could quite describe,” she said.
Jaya also has a signed jersey from one of her heroes, Australian professional footballer Caitlyn Foord, on the wall of her boarding room as a reminder of how far a career can take her.
Foord plays for Arsenal in FA Women’s Super League and the Matildas and also became the youngest Australian to debut at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, aged 16.
“Caitlin Foord has been a massive inspiration for me growing up as a footballer. I met her when I was about nine and she gave me one of her jerseys, signed and everything,” she said.
“I was pretty chuffed and the jersey has hung up on my wall ever since. It’s actually the only decoration I have in my boarding room right now.”
Jaya credits her parents for doing the many hundreds of kilometres to training camps and national tournaments, along with those helping her adjust to life in her newly-adopted home of Canberra.
“My parents never pushed me towards football – that was me – but they always supported me in every way they could as long as I put the work in,” said Jaya.
“The support I’ve received from the Canberra United Academy players, parents and staff is just overwhelming. The staff at Canberra Grammar School have also been really involved in a lot of aspects of my football, especially Olivia Gurney who has been a mentor for me since I started here.
“I can’t express how thankful I am for everyone’s support throughout my football journey.”