Mascot Vipers Open Women’s team has held a fearsome reputation since it won early bragging rights in 2008/09 – throw in two outstanding Brazilians and it’s now a case of catch us if you can!
And while a Mascot resurgence has added new competition excitement following the decline of a few contenders, the Latin poetry behind its triumph-tragedy-triumph story is beautifully Shakespearean.
By contrast, the Aussie slang being impressed upon lead character Mariel Hecher is anything but.
Vipers women were an early Futsal Premier League driving force winning the 2008/09 installment and making finals up to their dominant 2011/12 premiership-championship double before a vicious slump derailed their lofty position, finishing outside the top-four three years running including collecting the 2014/15 wooden spoon.
Enter Hecher who, in combination with Caitlin Campbell, steered Mascot to another 2016/17 premiership-championship double scoring 25 and 23 goals respectively.
Hecher in particular brought showtime to the finals with a semi-final hat-trick and grand-final brace against Inner West that helped land both trophies.
The Brazilian reignited the following summer scoring nine goals in 10 outings to place Vipers top before withdrawing to nurse a knee injury.
Not surprisingly the Vipers struggled, were knocked out of the finals, and missed the playoffs completely the next season with Hecher still recuperating.
But now she’s back, filled with fuel, fire and ambition, and Mascot is licking its lips once again.
Hecher, 27, was raised in Caxias do Sul in Brazil’s mountainous south and, in line with national sport guidelines that stipulate everyone starts their footballing tuition as a futsal player, Hecher played with a local boys’ team until joining a senior women’s side aged just 14.
A short, sharp, stint at athletics and steeple-chase saw her finish third at the Brazilian junior nationals and second in the South American students’ competition, but back issues forced her to rest.
Hecher “got to be a normal teenager for a bit” but opportunity came knocking with the chance to study and play futsal again [aged 16] in a city called ‘White Duck’ [Pato Branco].
“It was a 10-hour bus ride away from my home so at first it was really tough, but it was also such a good experience as I was a pretty spoiled kid up until that stage and this took me right out of my comfort zone,” she said.
“I had to learn how to do things myself, so I grew up very quickly.”
With new-found confidence Hecher moved even further away to play in the very strong Sao Paolo state league and was able to combine a professional playing contract with a scholarship that allowed her to complete her first university degree.
By this stage her brother Felipe had moved to Australia’s Gold Coast and Hecher decided a visit was on the cards. It was to be a turning point in her life.
“When I got here I thought, ‘Wow! This place is really nice’ and applied to do a second degree in osteopathy [she graduates next year] because it is something I am very passionate about,” she said.
Hecher also put the boots back on and lined up for Gold Coast futsal club Galaxy in the national 2016 F-League, scoring a remarkable 21 goals in 16 matches and steering them to a shock 4-3 grand final victory over South Brisbane.
“It was really good for me as a foreigner because I got to make a lot of good friends,” she said.
“Trudes [goalkeeper Trudy Bartlett] used to play for Vipers and she asked if I wanted to play in the NSW Premier League as it was known for being Australia’s top competition. I said yes.”
It turned out to be a great decision as Hecher scored 25 goals over that 2016/17 summer and then set her sights on playing her very first season of outdoor, signing up with Lions FC in Brisbane.
Hecher loved the game, loved the club, but also picked up a knee injury in a tackle that sidelined her for months.
Hecher returned with a vengeance to captain Lions to this year’s premiership and championship trophies, and it wasn’t long before a familiar face knocked on the door.
“[Mascot chief Ben David] Zvi was up the coast and called to meet for breakfast,” she said.
“We talked for a while and he wandered if I’d like another go at Vipers… he is very convincing!
“But I’m happy to be back and we are on track to finish what I could say is be one of the best years of my career.”
When it comes to Ben David however, the wily club president wasn’t going to stop at one superstar when he could have two – gaining the services of another Brazilian wonder, Marcella Santos, 24, who scored four goals in an opening-round 7-2 statement over defending champions Inner West.
Hecher has been an excellent guide for Santos during her fledgling weeks in Australia.
“I met her at our first game and I’m pretty happy she’s here,” Hecher said.
“I have been able to help her with being in another country, but she is also very well supported by a really good futsal community.”
The Brazilian noted she could see the sport gently coming along.
“To be honest I wasn’t expecting a lot from Australian futsal, so I’m pleased to see it is growing,” she said.
“When I first moved I felt the standard was not that high; but it’s hard to compare as it’s fully professional in Brazil so it’s not fair to expect the same level and intensity – it’s a different stress when you’re getting paid to play.
“But what is clear is there is potential everywhere and a lot of people trying to help it develop.
“There is also a growing acknowledgment that futsal is very important for player development, so it’s nice to see the mentality is changing, and also nice to be part of this transition.
“Maybe one day players will get paid and help cover their costs and then maybe training picks up, and drive picks up, and the competition picks up – that’s one thing that would help.
“In Brazil there are so many kids whose families don’t have any money so they have big dreams and big desire, here it is more like a hobby… but there are so many good, talented people here trying to make the sport more than that.”
Will Hecher become one of them? And who would she cheer for if Australia played Brazil?
“My plan is to stay because I’m just really happy here, and my family love that I’m here with my brother,” she said.
“Everything has worked so well for me and everybody has been so welcoming… the way things are it is impossible not to fall in love with Australia.”
“And everything you say is just so funny… and then with the accent,” Hecher laughed.
“I have a close mate who tries to teach me Aussie slang, he says things like ‘As full as a state school’ and ‘Hit the frog and toad, mate’ – it still makes me laugh.
“Thankfully I have other friends who explain this stuff to me.
“[And?] Well, I suppose I would still cheer for Brazil because who doesn’t like a winner, but I definitely wouldn’t be upset at all if Australia won.”
Wonderfully played and welcome to our beautiful country, the M&Ms, probably not too much different from Brazil – beautiful, fun and friendly!
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-By Dan De Nardi