The University of Johannesburg women’s team will be banking on a classic blend of youth and experience when the Varsity Hockey tournament kicks off in Cape Town next Friday.
The first weekend of matches takes place at the UCT astro from May 3 to 6 and UJ hockey manager Elize le Roux said they were preparing for a tough competition.
She added that a mix of senior stars and promising U21 players formed the core of the squad and they had been gelling well in the build-up to the competition.
“We have a great base of players from our senior group available,” said Le Roux.
“For example, national Olympic squad player and vice-captain Kristen Paton, captain Lisa Hawker, who played in the 2015 and 2017 tournaments and is a national squad member, and Namibians Phia Gerber and Jivanka Kruger are some of the senior players.
“Combine them with several U21 players and we have a squad full of experience and youth.
“But we know we need to stay calm and follow the coach’s plans, taking each game at a time.”
With eight teams vying for the title, Le Roux said it was difficult to separate the top contenders.
“I really feel that all the teams are in the running,” she said.
“The sides that perform most consistently on the first weekend will obviously be the ones to watch, but it will probably all boil down to what happens on the second weekend.
“In addition, I think the bonus points on offer could be crucial in separating the teams in a tight competition.”
The second weekend will take place in Potchefstroom from May 10 to 13, with the play-offs being held on the Monday. The final will be played on May 20.
UJ are operating with a new coach this year in former South African star Tsoanelo Pholo and Le Roux said preparations were going well under her leadership.
“Tsoanelo has brought a lot of her own coaching culture to the squad,” she added.
“She has seen our players perform in various tournaments so the adjustment period was not too long.
“Players have linked with her and there is a good coach-player relationship. As the season progresses I am sure this will get stronger and more consistent.”
Le Roux said Pholo would add a fun element to their training, without compromising on the competitive edge that is required.
“I feel that some of the players are in a pressure-cooker situation to manage their academic and sport commitments against social time.
“As a female coach, Tsoanelo adds a dynamic to the group in that she can relate to them mentally, having done it all herself before.
“There is a continuation of the self-belief and confidence in the players that emerged in 2018. The seniors and first years are combining to re-design the culture of the squad for future players and the cycle is ready for this change and input.”
Le Roux said one of the big challenges they faced was the timing of the competition.
“It does come fairly early in the hockey year so preparations have been a challenge.
“Managing student-athletes with their academic commitments comes into play, but we have done all we can and are ready for what lies ahead.”