Newly-appointed captain Izzy Whittle admits Doncaster Rovers Belles face a tough challenge in the Women’s National League.
But the young midfielder says it is one that everyone at the club will embrace.
Belles launch their new season at home to reigning National League Northern Division champions Blackburn Rovers on Sunday in a match that will be played at Rossington Main’s Oxford Street ground.
It is a case of new home, new manager and new squad for the much-changed Belles.
The club were forced to withdraw from the FA Women’s Championship to ‘ensure the continued viability and re-growth of the club’.
This summer has seen chair-lady Faye Lygo resign, manager Neil Redfearn leave for Liverpool and main sponsor BPP end their association with the Belles.
Every senior player who helped Doncaster win last season’s FAWSL2 title has since moved on, leaving new head coach Zoey Shaw to work with the development side she was coaching in her previous role.
New skipper Whittle has previously made only one substitute appearance at first team level.
“It’s going to be a tough league, with the likes of Sunderland and Sheffield taking the step down alongside us,” said Whittle.
“Then you’ve also got some very capable teams already in there like Blackburn, who won it last year.
“So it’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one we’re all looking forward to.
“There’s a really positive mentality from top to bottom at the Belles, and a big part of that is that we don’t shy away from a challenge.
“We’ve got a very young squad so it’s going to be a steep learning curve for a lot of them.
“But that’s how you improve and it’s really positive to see younger players getting a chance to play competitive football.”
Olivia Cook has been named vice-captain.
“A young squad doesn’t necessarily mean a weak squad, and we have a lot of people who are willing to learn in an elite-level setup,” said Cook.
“We’ve got something to prove this season.”
Shaw added: “We have a long history of giving chances to young players and we’re proud to continue that as we go into our 50th year celebrations.
“All the staff and squad are really excited about the start of the new season. It doesn’t get much tougher than going up against Blackburn for our opening game, but we’ll get an instant indication of where the bar has been set in this division.”
Belles squad: Izzy Whittle, Olivia Cook, Sheldon Ashton, Emily Batty, Zoe Belding, Chloe Bethell, Emily Burgin, Emily Cahill, Holly Dodsworth, Ashleigh Edwards, Chloe Gray, Aimee Hickingbotham, Nadia Khan, Georgia Marshall, Ellie Parkin, Lois Scholefield, Kirsty Smith, Imani Todman, Isabella Travillion, Abby Watkinson, Issy Williams.