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Loughborough Foxes will be looking forward to life in the top flight in the FA Women's Premier League next season after lifting the Midlands Division One title.
They got off to a great start with a 1-0 victory over Leicester City Women, who were amongst the pre-season favourites, and worked themselves into a challenging position from an early stage.
The Foxes moved to the top of the table and stayed there for virtually the rest of the season. They needed to negotiate a tough spell of four away matches during February and March in which they shared a goalless draw with Loughborough Students, followed by a 4-1 success at Solihull Ladies. They drew 3-3 with second placed Leicester City Women and although their unbeaten run came to an end at Radcliffe Olympic, they never looked back from that point and won their last five games.
They were confirmed as Champions with a game to spare and rounded off the season by beating Leafield Athletic 2-1 in their final match to finish on top by a healthy margin of six points.
"It's a massive achievement," manager Steve Wilkinson told Women's Soccer Scene. "This is way beyond any of our expectations when we first started in 2006.
"The target at the start of the season was a top four finish. However I think that by the time had we had got midway through the season, we realised that we had a good chance but we were still very cautious, as it was unknown territory for every one of us."
Loughborough Foxes are captained by Vicky Brackenbury and leading scorer was Jodie White, with a tally of 15 goals in 19 games. The squad also includes Melissa Reid, one of the country's top professional women golfers who hit national headlines last week when winning the Turkish Open. However manager Steve Wilkinson is keen to point out that winning the Championship has been very much a squad effort.
"Every player played a massive role in the success," he said, "as we have a hard core of 20 regulars, as well as a back up of 10-12 players from the reserve team, if required.
"Having a coaching team of four staff has also made a huge difference to the experience that the squad received.
"To give anyone specific praise would be wrong. It has been a very team orientated season with goals from everywhere, great contributions from players who left us in mid-season and from those we recruited, as well as a very strong coaching team.
"We are hoping to add more quality to the playing and coaching staff through the summer, that will hopefully make us even stronger next season."
Now Loughborough are setting their sights on the division above and Steve is taking a realistic view on how they will fare. "The league above is unknown territory," he admitted. "But have had FA Cup ties against teams from higher divisions before and we have done okay.
"We also take heart from Copsewood (Coventry), who have done really well in the Southern Division this season after winning our league last year. Staying up, though, is going to be the main priority."
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