Fourteen-year-old Queensland Academy of Sport striker Grace Kuilamu has spent the past two years juggling religious and educational commitments with her football dreams.
The straight-A student from Brisbane State High School, whose parents run the Brisbane chapter of the Christian Mission Fellowship, said being part of the QAS has inspired her to chase a career in football.
“My faith is what drives me, and although I want to pursue football as a career, it’s really important to balance it with school as well,” said Kuilamu.
The QAS women’s football program, which celebrates 30 years in 2022, has an enviable track record of producing players for Australian national teams.
But Kuilamu’s mother, Oana, said the QAS has brought out the best in her daughter on and off the pitch.
“I’m surprised, because Grace’s schoolwork has actually improved. You’d think it would decrease, because she does so much, but her grades have gotten better,” said Oana.
Like all athletes in the QAS, Kuilamu is benefiting from a holistic training and competition program that includes expert coaching and off-field support.
Kuilamu’s U14 team plays in the U13 NPL Development Boys competition, which tests the players in a more competitive environment.
“The boys are tough, but we definitely gave them a hard time. There were a few games we could have improved upon, but I guess that’s what this program is for – improvement,” she said.
The youngest of five siblings born to migrant parents from Fiji and Romania, Kuilamu is the first in her family to seriously pursue football.
“Before I joined the QAS, my dad wasn’t someone who watched a lot of soccer, but now watch and analyse the game together,” she said.
Likewise, her grandmother Teodora has become a familiar face in the crowd, always with a plate of Romanian sweets in hand.
Although Kuilamu missed several months of this season due to injury, Football Queensland State Technical Director Gabor Ganczer said her game had matured since joining the program.
“When Grace joined the QAS last year, she was very quick and direct with plenty of raw natural ability,” said Ganczer.
“While she was injured for much of this season, she has come a long way and developed into an intelligent and tactically astute player.
“Football Queensland coaches identify junior players in a variety of different ways including at TSP Carnivals, Queensland School Sport Carnivals, NPL Women’s teams and SAP programs.
“In Grace’s case, she was first identified at a QSS Carnival in Wide Bay in 2017 and joined the QAS program from Souths United’s SAP program in 2019.
“There are around 100 girls currently in our QAS teams and we are always on the lookout for talented players to join the program.”
Over the past two years, Kuilamu has received recognition from her peers, taking out the U13 QAS Players’ Player Award in 2020 and Player of the Final at the 2021 Bill Turner Cup (pictured below).
Aside from the individual accolades, Kuilamu credits the QAS with making her a more versatile player.
“When I started, I was just a No. 9 – a centre forward – but since joining the QAS I’ve also learned to play on either wing,” she said.
“I feel like club football was a bit more fun and games, but now that I’m older and playing for the QAS it’s more strategic to help us improve as players.”