There are less than six months before the start of the Olympic Games in Beijing in August, and the SPAR women’s hockey team’s preparations feature a three-Test series against Canada in Pretoria next week, ahead of a three-nations SPAR Cup tournament in Johannesburg at the end of the month.
The three matches against Canada will be played on Thursday the 21st of February 16:00, Friday the 22nd of February 16:00 and Sunday the 24th of February 10:30. The matches will take place at the Tshwane University of Technology.
Captain Marsha Marescia was excited about the prospect of the series against Canada. "Playing the Canadians before the three-nations at the end of the month will be very good preparation for us as a team. We are well into our preparations for the Olympic Games, and the more competition we have, the better," she said.
"It will also be interesting to see how the Canadians have progressed over the last year. They have always been a physically strong and immensely fit team and I’m sure this series they’ll be no different. So we are definitely looking much forward to the Canadian series."
While South Africa have qualified for the Olympics, Canada still have to qualify, and they will be using the series as part of their preparations.
"South Africa has been an invaluable opponent for the Canadian team over the last three years," said Canadian captain Sarah Hughes. "As an Olympic Team the South Africans provide the Canadian team with a strong level of opposition both physically and tactically. We have played South Africa every year since 2005 and so the South African team provide us with a gauge of our overall progress and level of improvement on the international stage.
"The opportunity to compete in South Africa and gain some warm weather training during the Canadian winter is also advantageous particularly at present when the Canadian team is preparing for the final Olympic Qualifying Tournament which Canada is hosting in Victoria, BC at the end of April."
South Africa are currently ranked 12th in the world, while Canada are ranked 23rd. The South African selectors have chosen a 21-member squad to attend a training camp at the High Performance Centre at Pretoria University next week, ahead of the series against Canada. The final squad will be chosen at the end of the training camp.
Fiona Butler and Shelly Russell will both miss the Canadian series because of injury, while Jenny Wilson will be rested.