It was heartbreak for the Free State u21 women’s hockey team in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon after the side was unable to defend its 2014 IPT title. With six consecutive wins in the tournament hosted at the University of the Free State astro turf, the Northerns Blues of Gauteng were deservedly crowned the new champions following a 1-0 win over the hosts.
With 32 goals scored in six games and conceding just two throughout the tournament, it was hardly surprising that the side from Pretoria was the side to beat and the eventual winner.
Defending champions, Free State, in their turn started the tournament well with a 5-0 drubbing of KwaZulu-Natal Inland on the opening day, and they followed this up with a 4-0 hiding of the other team from the last frontier, KwaZulu-Natal Coastals.
Namibia tested the hosts on day three of the competition despite losing 4-1. However, Free State let themselves down by not being able to convert a whole host of short corners during the game.
Thursday’s fixtures had the hockey faithful in the City of Roses excited with Free State set to face its traditional rivals, North West, in a match which should have determined the leader of Pool A. While this match was taking place on the B Astro, the Blues were busy trashing Witsies on the A astro with an emphatic 7-0 mauling.
Free State played catch-up hockey for the entire match against North West after Lerato Mahlangu handed the visitors the lead in the 27th minute. An Antonette Louw drag-flick from a short corner equalised the game for the Free State and captain Nicole Walraven told Courant that the girls will have to improve in order to beat Eastern Province and advance to the final.
Friday was geared for a cracking day of hockey with Free State, North West and Eastern Province from Pool A all in with a shot at the final, while in Pool B Northerns and Western Province were set to face each other to secure their final berth.
North West beat KZN Inland 4-0, but Free State had to beat EP to secure their spot with a 3-0 win, with the girls showing visible signs of fatigue. On the other field, Northerns convincingly trashed the traditional powerhouse from Cape Town 6-2 to book their spot and concede their only two goals of the tournament.
Saturday’s final was settled in the 15th minute when Anél Luüs hit the backboard for the only score of the game. The Blues’ midfield and defence showed no signs of cracking and forced the Free Staters into a tactic questionable with Antonette Louw repeatedly trying to lob the ball over the pitch just to give the strikers a sniff at goal.
Senior national women’s coach Sheldon Rostron was in attendance during the tournament keeping an eye on proceedings as they look to start building on future national squads.
Rostron told Courant that although they have their squad for the World League in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 3 to 14 June, they want to build on their depth.
"What we’re busy with now is identifying talent going forward; we already basically have our team for the World League. But we really want to tap into the next generation, so we’ve started preparing for the next group to come through.
"The sights are a little bit broader than the upcoming events like the Olympics, also for the Commonwealth Games. 2022 is a massive drive from SASCOC and South African Hockey side. We want get the ball rolling on that and start getting the talent coming through and start exposing them.