The Madibaz-NMMU women’s team are ready to tackle the country’s top sides after wrapping up their preparations for the Varsity Hockey tournament with a training camp at the weekend.
The Port Elizabeth side are one of eight teams in the race for the title, which kicks off on Friday in Stellenbosch. Four matches will be played this weekend, with the competition concluding in Potchefstroom from May 12 to 15.
The Varsity Hockey tournament alternates annually between the men’s and women’s editions with UJ the defending champions in both.
New Madibaz coach Michael van Rensburg said they had a number of new faces in their squad, but were looking forward to gaining exposure at a higher level.
“Varsity Hockey offers fantastic opportunities for players in a number of avenues,” he said.
“But I do believe most of the players in the competition will be aiming to be selected for the Premier Hockey League (PHL) later this year.”
Introduced for the first time last year, the PHL consists of men’s and women’s franchise teams, comprising the top players in South Africa.
Van Rensburg added that Varsity Hockey would also offer NMMU’s younger players the chance to play against some of the best women in the country.
“It will be a massive learning experience for many of our team members.”
With five players from the 2015 squad included, Van Rensburg said they were approaching an exciting phase in Madibaz hockey.
“We have a good mixture of experience and youth coming into the system,” he added.
“Lauren Nina was the top goal-scorer at the PHL last year and will add good experience up front, while others to watch include Caitlin Gouws and Kanyisa Gwata.”
He said the squad had undergone an intensive two-month training programme, covering all aspects of the game.
“The players have been working hard over the last eight weeks in the High Performance Complex in terms of their conditioning.
“Our on-field preparation was split into two blocks, with the first two weeks focused on making sure the players were able to execute the technical skills required of them.
“The second block’s focus was on tactical work where we concentrated on how we would like to operate as a unit.”
Van Rensburg said there was a feeling of excitement in the squad and they would be aiming to give themselves a chance of making the top five.
“There are also quite a few nerves among the new faces,” he added.
He said he thought the tournament would be wide open, but pinpointed UJ, Free State University, UP-Tuks and Stellenbosch as the teams to beat.
Madibaz Sport hockey manager Cheslyn Gie said he was sure the team would be competitive as they had been working well under Van Rensburg.
“They have really taken to him and he is a very thorough coach so it will be very interesting to see how they do if everything falls into place,” he said.
“There are some very good sides in the tournament, but the team should compete well and we are targeting at least a top five finish.”