Kayleigh-Anne Burt predicts positive summer to boost Cambridge United Women
A wind of change might have swept through Cambridge United Women this summer, but the spine of the team remains rooted to the core values of the club.
Vicky Hoover has taken over as chair of the U’s and there are also new assistant and development team coaches, with a number of playing personnel changes, also.
However, the foundations are preserved by the spirit of the group that graduated from the Cambridge United centre of excellence eight years ago, led by club captain Kayleigh-Anne Burt.
“There are quite a few player changes, a little bit of a change in staff, different vibes going on as it’s a lot more positive than things were at the back end of last season,” she said.
“We realise that we underachieved and there needed to be a refresh. Those changes, and positive changes, have happened which is really good and really exciting.”
Burt first signed for the U’s centre of excellence as an under-14, playing for them until the age of 16 when the funding stopped which brought an end to the scheme.
However, she progressed to Cambridge Women – which combined Cambridge United and City – and been there ever since, after it affiliated back to Cambridge United in 2015.
“I really enjoyed my time at the centre of excellence. I worked with some really great coaches, like Franco Nacca and Laura Bright,” she said.
“Laura played for the women’s team so it was really good for me because she was my coach at under-16s, and I then fledged into the women’s team to play alongside her which was really cool for me personally.
“Having huge respect for my coach and manager and then playing alongside her, it was massive. I thought I had really progressed and done really well.
“To be taught by her and then be alongside her was huge as I had always aspired to be as good as she is – she’s now at MK Dons.”
Burt is not the only player from those centre of excellence days still at United, far from it.
Others who have made the progression include Emma Jenkins, Carrie Bennett, Faith Hewitt, Charlotte Crisp and Savannah Smith.
“It has worked out full circle,” said Burt. “Some have gone on to other things but come back recently, but it’s really nice as when they turn up at training for the first time we talk about when we trained together at under-15s.
“It’s really good as they have gone full circle but still value the club and want to play for us.”
As a group, the aforementioned form the spine of the team.
Smith is the keeper, Burt is a centre-half, Jenkins is right-back, Bennett is the left-back and Hewitt and Crisp are central midfielders.
“We know each other inside out as we’ve played several years with each other, so I think that really helps,” said Burt.
United have more than held their own in mid-table in the Women’s National League, South East Division One in recent seasons, but Burt rues that they have not been able to kick on.
“We just need to get that final push to compete in the top three,” she said.
“We could have made it last season, I think, but the last couple of months we let ourselves down, to be honest.
“We lost our last three games which dashed our hopes.”
There is optimism that could change this year given the close-knit nature of the squad, and the number of youngsters coming through at the club, including the likes of 16-year-old striker Mollie Coupar.
“We’ve got some really good young players that have joined us that are hungry and really looking to learn,” said Burt.
“They have a great mentality and a great attitude, as well as Ben (Yeomans), who is our new assistant manager.
“His coaching, his information, his attitude towards all of us and how he has brought us together as a group – I think it was Sean Dyche that said ‘never underestimate a united group of players’. We have that, we’re a united group.
“We’re not competing in the top division, we’re not the best players you’re ever going to see but, coming together as a group which I don’t feel we had last season, that is going to make a massive difference for us.”
She added: “This is Mollie’s season, she will score loads of goals. She’s got huge potential.
“There are some really promising girls that have joined us.
“They will all start off in the development team, the young ones that we have, working with Leon Holden, who coached me at the centre of excellence and is our new development coach.”
Pre-season results may not have gone quite as well as wanted for United, who are now based at St Neots for their home games, but Burt says optimism runs through the squad.
“We’re really positive going into the season,” she added.
“You always start positive, you always want to, but the gut feeling as a group is that it’s real. As a group, we’re ready to go and do it together.”