Sunday marked a momentous occasion for 23 young women.
As the Under-17 Youth Girls Championships drew to a close at Leyshon Park in Yeronga, the Gold Coast Sunsets had reached the summit.
After being nine-points down at the main break the team fought tooth and nail in the second half, kicking four goals to one in the third quarter.
With each minute of the last quarter ticking away and their lead remaining intact, the Sunsets were determined to secure back-to-back Championship wins against natural rivals the Brisbane South Vixens.
The siren sounded upon their victory, taking out the competition 7.4 (46) to the Vixens’ 6.2 (38).
Sunsets Captain Arianna Clarke said the Grand Final was a game of mixed emotions.
“It was ecstatic, very nerve-racking,” Clarke told SUNS TV.
“We were losing by half time so the nerves were high and all the girls were quite eager to get the win.
“I guess the feeling was content, we were really happy, stocked, very excited, we just wanted to get photos and get around the cup and get the medals on and celebrate as a team.”
After four days of dominant competition by the Sunsets, Clarke said she didn’t know the Cup would be in her hands until the dying seconds.
“We knew we were in the lead by a goal and a couple of points, so we knew that if they got the goal it’d be really tight,” she said.
“[It went] right down to the final siren.”
With the Championships played out over four consecutive days match conditioning was of upmost importance for the Sunsets. Coach Michael Gugliotta, assisted by Jordan Membrey, Beth Pinchin and Tim Searl, had each of the girls undertake a 10-week strength and conditioning program as part of competition preparation.
“We had three weeks worth of trialling, prior to our actual commencement of training and then we had a training camp- and that was intense,” explained Clarke.
“We did a gym session in the morning, followed by an education session and then an intense training skills and conditioning session.
“We had about four weeks of training as a team and that was lots of fitness, lots of skills, lots of development, and we worked very hard alongside Michael Gugliotta and a lot of the AFLQ staff.”
Unfortunately Clarke sustained a small ankle injury prior to the Grand Final, but was able to celebrate the team’s triumph as well as recognise individual successes.
Her Championship highlight was watching each player recognised at the closing ceremony.
“Just watching all the girls, knowing that I lead that team, I was pretty satisfied with that,” she said.
“We had two girls get MVP and player of the carnival so that was awesome to see them come from the Gold Coast.”
Clarke is undeniably an AFL Women’s star in the making. Her eyes light up discussing the Sunsets’ back-to-back wins, her passion for the game underlying every word.
2016 marks the Gold Coaster’s fourth and final year with the U17 Sunsets team, a bitter-sweet moment for the outgoing skipper.
“I started here in 2013, started with the summer program and then moved into the Gold Coast Sunsets under 17s team,” she said.
Her journey has been guided by the Gold Coast SUNS Fan Development and Community team, as well as fellow AFL Women’s players involved with the SUNS.
“They’ve all been a part of my journey and also filtering through the Queensland State Academies and into the women’s state footy,” she said.
“SUNS have been a huge support for that.”
And while many 17-year-olds are still pondering what the future may hold, Clarke has a clear dream involving the red and gold and one day representing the Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium.
“That’s been my dream pretty much since I started playing AFL,” she said.
“Living on the Gold Coast and being a supporter of the Gold Coast SUNS, it’s what I want to do when I grow up.”