The radiant smiles on the faces of the Central Pulse players complemented the sparkle emitted from the gleaming silverware sitting majestically on a table at the foyer of the humble Hawke's Bay Netball offices in Hastings today.
Addressing the five life members enjoying a celebratory afternoon tea with the contingent of ANZ Premiership champions, Havelock North-born mid-courter Claire Kersten acknowledged "It's been a long time coming."
"It's been a lot of hard work particularly," said Kersten, who attended Waipukurau Primary School where she got her first taste of netball before going on the make her Silver Ferns debut against England in a losing test in September 2017.
"Losing that one [premiership] last year was particularly difficult so it's just a great feeling to be on the other side of it this year," said the 29-year-old centre/wing defence who shelved her teaching career two years ago to focus on the campaign.
Kersten — with defenders Sulu Fitzpatrick and Elle Temu as well as shooters Tiana Metuarau and Aliyah Dunn — made a whirlwind visit to Karamu High School and Hastings Girls' High School to conduct coaching clinics amid question-and-answer sessions. They finished off with a similar spell with Year 5-6 pupils at the regional park centre courts before catching their flight back to Wellington at 5.25pm.
During the Q&A at the offices, Fitzpatrick asked the life members if they had any advice for them as elite players.
"Just make sure you're enjoying yourselves," one of them replied after Katie Portas had enlightened them on how good the Pulse brand must be after a fellow resident at a rest home she had moved into recently wanted to know when the Pulse were playing the Northern Stars in the 52-48 winning final for their historic maiden title.
Having made her debut with the Pulse in 2013, Kersten said afterwards the team mantra was finding strength in their culture. While the personnel hadn't changed they had found ways to cope with different situations based on what individuals brought to the equation.
Before Monday, the New Zealand Under-21 silver medal in 2009 was her biggest accomplishment but, a decade on, she was delighted to add the premiership crown to her resume.
"I think we've learned a lot from last year because if you look at the other night we had a pretty tight game all the way through but we were able to absorb that pressure to come out on top in the end."
She felt experience was a pivotal component although the Pulse hadn't had as many tight affairs last year as they did this year.
"I think also from the work we've been doing - not just with our netball coaches but with other people we've brought in at different stages to help us out - has been beneficial as well."
Kersten juxtaposed the warm fuzzies this time with the emotions of driving to meet family and fans last year to appreciate what a change in fortunes could do for the spirit of any team.
"You know, we know that in the end it's a game and it's a final so you move on from whether you win or lose. In a couple of weeks our focus will be on the Silver Ferns and the World Cup while some of us are involved in the All Stars team."
The Pulse would face a similar challenge next year but she said resting on their laurels wasn't an option.
With nine New Zealand caps under her belt, Kersten said she would love to remain in the Silver Ferns' environment but it wasn't ever a given.
"That's the thing with sport. You can never really know [because] you can be in control of how you train and play and all those sorts of things but those final decisions you aren't in charge of which is difficult.
"I'm probably heading towards the later stages of my career but — despite having a few more niggles than I used to have — I still feel physically able to train 100 per cent to give everything I can.
"I haven't put an expiry date or anything but there's a bit of wait-and-see and, I guess, that kind of helps to a certain extent."
Kirsten said after wearing the centre bib for two years she felt her portfolio was still an evolving one where finding cohesiveness with the shooting and defending circles demanded mental clarity.
"I know I don't have the flair and the pace that someone like Whitney has," she said, alluding to wing attack/centre Whitney Souness' footwork. "What she does off the ball is incredible but I'm just a very different player from her."
For someone who still adheres to a pre-match snack of avocado and poached eggs on toast, Kersten harked back to her Waipukurau school days when her father, Willy Kersten, was principal at Central Hawke's Bay College before moving to Rathkeale College in Wairarapa. He and her mother, Ali Kersten, who teaches at Hereworth School, still live in Havelock North.
"Those are some of my best memories of netball," said the 2010 Otago University graduate in biomedical science who had attended Palmerston North Girls' High School.
While she didn't hail from a powerhouse netball region like Wellington or Auckland, Kersten said there was no denying the passion in Manawatu.
"You know, I made the regional rep teams when I was younger but I took a long time to break into the NZ Under-21s so I was 23 when I started with the Pulse."
She didn't leave the Bay because of netball but said perhaps there were extenuating circumstances when aspiring youngsters would have to accommodate such thoughts if they wished to foot it at franchise level.
"I believe there are plenty of opportunities wherever you are, whether it be small towns or large cities, so you can get great experiences."
Waipukurau Primary School didn't allow pupils to play netball until they were 9 so, a laughing Kersten said, she gave football a go and wasn't great.
"I don't think we won a game all year but I was pretty keen to try hockey the next year," she said, revealing older sister Hannah, 33, of Auckland, but on the verge of jetting off to Edinburgh in Scotland, had persuaded her to slip on a bib.
She took to swimming but in the end the "clean aspect" of netball won.
"Every single person in this Pulse team this year will talk about how massive that's been, not just as a group but also individually."
It was hard to describe that feeling but after the accolades on Monday she felt the penny dropped on why she and Pulse teammates had chosen netball.
While myriad mentors had helped honed her skills, including the continuity Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie had provided from Palmerston North, she said her family members were her marquee support crew.
"I don't think that'll ever change," said the player who acquired teaching qualifications in Christchurch but isn't sure what her career path will be post-netball.