The SPAR South African women’s team easily qualified for the Olympic Games in Beijing next year, winning the African qualifying tournament in Nairobi without breaking into a sweat.
In the African qualifying tournament, South Africa did not concede a single goal and won by huge margins, but the following month, playing in the Good Luck quadrangular tournament in Beijing, the team scored just one goal, losing 2-1 to Argentina in the play-off for third place. In the round robin section, Australia beat South Africa 4-0, China beat South Africa 3-0 and Argentina beat South Africa 6-0.
It is clear that if the South Africans want to make any impression at the Olympic Games, they need more experience against strong teams. "Beijing was a good wake-up call after our easy win in Nairobi," said coach Jenny King. "We know that we need to really test ourselves against the best, and Australia are among the very best. The tournament in Beijing was very valuable, because the other countries all had very different styles of play.
"One of the most important things about the Beijing tournament was that we got an idea of what conditions will be like at the Olympics next year. We were playing at the same time as the Olympic Games, and at the same venue. We found it very hot and humid, so know that we will have to prepare well to play in those conditions.
"But what we need is as much international experience as possible. Just getting out on the pitch and playing in match conditions helps us to prepare," continued King. "We have a fairly young team, with some of our stalwarts having retired from international hockey, so the younger members of the team have to be ‘blooded’ and learn from their experience.
"Any international experience is good, but it is even better to play against teams that are stronger than us. We learn more from a tough defeat than from an easy victory. The girls really give their all when they play against the stronger teams."
King and her charges are to get some valuable learning time next month, when they play against Australia, winners of the Good Luck tournament, three time gold medalists at the past four Olympics, and two time world cup champions, in the three-match SPAR Challenge series. The matches will be played at 7pm the Randburg Astro on Wednesday October 17 and at the Tshwane University of Technology on Friday October 19, and at 3:30pm at the Randburg Astro on Saturday October 20.
King was delighted at the news. "We love playing against the Hockeyroos," she said. "There is always a bit of extra needle in our matches against the Aussies. Every South African hates to lose to Australia and so they give 120 per cent. I think it will be a great series."
The SPAR South Africa Squad:
Kate Hector (vice captain)
Marsha Marescia (captain)
Henna du Buisson