The SA Hockey Association Friday named the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team to play in the Olympic Qualifier Tournament in Delhi, India from February 18 to 26. Captain Marsha Marescia’s team must win the Delhi event in order to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games. There are no opportunities afterwards.
The Investec SA team includes seven players from Western Province, four apiece from Southern Gauteng and Northern Blues, and one each from North West, Free State and KZN Coastal Raiders.
In Delhi, head coach Giles Bonnet’s 18-player team will play India, Canada, Italy, Poland and Ukraine.
After a defeat to Ireland and a win against Belgium in one-off internationals this week, the Investec SA team kick off the business end of their final preparation for Delhi with the Investec Tri-Nations Series, which runs from Saturday to next Sunday at Randburg Hockey Stadium.
The SA women tackle Ireland at 2 pm Saturday and Belgium at 2 pm Sunday.
The team for Delhi includes 11 Olympic Games players from one or two of, the Sydney, Athens and Beijing events, and boasts 2 112 Test matches between the 18 players, an average of 117 each.
“Players with more than 50 Test matches have been left out, which indicates that competition for places was high,” said Bonnet. “The selection of this team is not cast in stone and will be reviewed on a regular basis.”
SA selection chief Mickey Gordon said one of the goals when Bonnet was appointed 18 months ago was to increase the player base: “We have succeeded in that, and now selection is purely performance-based, so no one can rely on reputation alone.”
Since his appointment, Bonnet has spent six of the 18 months with the team, during which they have played in the region of 100 Test matches. It is the most prepared national team in the history of the sport in South Africa.
“It is best practice for a coach to have four years with a team and we are trying to build an Olympic Games top six team in 24 months,” said Bonnet. “What we are building now will help us in the future after the Olympic Games as well.”
There is indeed a school of thought that this team will only peak once its four-year cycle is complete around the time of the 2012 Hockey World Cup in Holland.
Marescia said that players who just missed the cut had been given constructive advice by the coaching staff on how to improve their performance: “They know it’s not the end of the road and it’s motivated them to get back in.”
SA assistant coach Fabian Gregory kicked claims that the team has played too much hockey into touch: “A big squad of around 35 players has been used over the 18 months. You can only train so much; the best guide to progress and performance is what you see on match day.”
SA Hockey president Dave Carr agreed there is a marked gap in quality between the SA senior squad and SA junior squad: “If they want to go to the Junior World Cup there is a lot of work ahead in the two years leading up to the tournament. Fitness is a controllable and first priority at their next camp is a fitness test. Those who fail will be sent home at their own expense.”
Beijing Olympian Sanani Mangisa, who at 24 is looking to attend her second Olympic Games, said the thrill never goes away. The goalkeeper spent 18 months out in the cold after Beijing and forced her way back into the team: “Having experienced the Olympics makes you even more determined to go to another one,” she said.
Whether they win in Delhi or not, the Investec SA team are scheduled to be playing a series in Scotland from May 24 to June 3; a Four Nations tournament in London from June 3 to 10 and another in Bremen, Germany from July 12 to 15.
The SA U21 team play their Junior World Cup Africa Qualifier Tournament in Potchefstroom from September 17 to 26.
INVESTEC SA TEAM
Mariette Rix, Kate Woods, Shelley Russell, Jade Mayne, Lauren Penny, Kathleen Taylor, Tarryn Bright (all WP); Marsha Marescia (capt), Lisa Deetlefs, Bernadette Coston, Pietie Coetzee (all Southern Gauteng); Sanani Mangisa, Dirkie Chamberlain, Nicolene Terblanche, Kim Hubach (all Northern Blues), Lesle-Ann George (Free State); Lenise Marais (KZN Coastal Raiders); Sulette Damons (North West). Head coach: Giles Bonnet. Assistant coach: Fabian Gregory.
Source: Hockey SA Media Release.
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