TWO OF the young stars to watch in the upcoming NAB League Girls competition in 2022 share a special bond that goes back to before they'd discovered football.
While they'll be wearing different colours and come from opposite sides of the greater Melbourne area, Charlotte Baskaran (Western Jets) and Amber Clarke (Dandenong Stingrays) have taken similar journeys to being top junior footy prospects hoping to hear their names read out on AFLW Draft night later this year.
The pair met as top junior track athletes and have followed each other through the talent pathway system since crossing to football. In 2021 they finished equal seventh in the NAB League Girls best and fairest voting, a remarkable effort as underage players.
"We've known each other since we were about 10 years old, so knowing Amber, she's funny, great to be around, so hopefully we get to play each other on the field," Baskaran said when they came together for a photo shoot to promote the start of the NAB League Girls season.
Clarke said: "It's been really good seeing (Charlotte) develop from athletics to football and seeing how far she's come."
After two disrupted years because of the COVID pandemic, the players hope that 2022 gives them and all the NAB League Girls participants the opportunity to shine in the elite under-18 talent pathway competition featuring teams from Victoria as well as the Tassie Devils. The season starts on Saturday, January 22.
"I'm looking forward to just playing with a new group of girls because we have a lot of new faces at the Stingrays, so it'll be good to see what they can produce, and having a full season, hopefully making it as far as we can. The end goal is to get drafted, so hopefully I can get myself there," Clarke said.
"Playing AFLW is definitely the ultimate goal," said Baskaran. "I'd love to play AFLW one day, give back to everyone who has helped me."
The pair attribute their junior community football clubs with playing a big role in their development.
For Clarke, it didn't take long to fall in love with the game after first giving it a go.
"It started when I was about eight years old. I saw it on TV and I just thought, it's something I want to try. So, I joined Narre North Foxes and I went into my first game without any training and as soon as I touched the footy I just knew that I loved the sport," she said.
Baskaran's experience was similar.
"I used to do athletics when I was little. I did that for about four years and really loved it. I trained hard and got to a national level but then I was like, it's a bit individual and I wanted to join a team sport," she said.
"Me and my mates from athletics decided to join Aberfeldie, and from there I was lucky enough to play in a winning side for the first season, so we won a premiership. I loved the game and from there, moved into the interleague teams, played three years there and then came to the Western Jets, where I've been for about four years now."
I'd love to play AFLW one day, give back to everyone who has helped me
Clearly the emergence and growth of the AFLW competition has been a source of inspiration, as it's been for thousands of young girls around the country.
"I remember the start-up season of AFLW, and I remember going to the games and watching," said Baskaran. "I went to an AFLW game last weekend (round one, 2022) and the level and development has improved so much. So, it's definitely amazing to see the girls, especially some of the girls I know, who have come through the pathway, watching them grow and develop."
The NAB League Girls 2022 season commences this Saturday and will conclude with the Grand Final to be played on the weekend of April 9/10. The season is starting earlier this year to more closely align to the AFLW season. Click here to read the fixture announcement media release.