When the North Queensland Schoolgirls team run out at the QSS Under-15 State Championships this week in Hervey Bay, there will be a familiar face guiding them from the sideline.
Ashley Sartor (née Spina) has returned to her roots after a professional career that saw her play several seasons in the W-League and a couple of summers abroad in the United States.
Now living in Ingham, a sugar town 100km north of Townsville, Sartor is studying to be a teacher and has taken on coaching the NQ Schoolgirls side.
“After I stopped playing, I started to miss football and I felt that I had something to give back,” said Sartor, 29.
“This year I decided to coach the NQ Schoolgirls team. I’ve been away with them as manager before, but this is the first year that I’m going to coach them.
“I just wanted to share my knowledge, especially living in North Queensland where there aren’t as many opportunities as there are down south.”
In Sartor, there are echoes of her father Laurie Spina, a Queensland rugby league legend who left behind a successful career in Sydney to return home to the family cane farm at the age of 27.
Spina eventually came out of retirement in 1995 to become the inaugural captain of the North Queensland Cowboys.
Young Ashley blazed a different trail, moving to Brisbane as a teenager to join the Queensland Academy of Sport before making her W-League debut for Brisbane Roar in 2011. She also played for the Newcastle Jets and in the United States for Colorado Pride.
But just like her father, Sartor retired young and returned to Ingham to live on a cane farm.
“I knew that I’d come back eventually. I just love it here, there’s something about living in a smalltown,” said Sartor.
“I probably finished my career earlier than I thought I would, too be honest. But I have no regrets – I loved every part of the journey.
“Playing in the USA was one of the best experiences of my life. I played two summer seasons over there and met so many people.
“But I had two knee reconstructions – I did my ACL twice – and after the second injury I felt like my body wasn’t the same as it used to be.”
In the five years since Sartor moved back to her hometown, she has married a local man and started working in administration at her old school, Gilroy Santa Maria College.
While many players of her generation will move into full-time coaching or sports administration, Sartor believes her future is in the school system.
“I always wanted to become a teacher, but football had been my focus and I hadn’t worried about studying at all until after I retired from the game,” said Sartor.
“I’ve learned that there is more to life than football. But there are lessons you can take from football into your everyday life.
“Football has given me discipline. It taught me that you need to put in a lot of effort to get rewards, and you need to make the most of your opportunities.”
They are lessons she will no doubt be telling her players this week as her North Queensland Schoolgirls come up against their peers in Hervey Bay.
“Going away to state carnivals is a very exciting thing for these girls,” said Sartor.
“I started going away for school sport when I was 11 and I played at the exact same carnival that I’m now coaching at, so I’ve come full circle.”
Applications for Sporting Schools Term 3 funding are open until 8pm Friday 4 June. Apply for funding here.
Football For All, For Life shines a light on the inspiring characters that make up the FQ community.