The Absa-NMMU netball team became the first Eastern Cape side to win the national club championships when they defeated the Gauteng Central champions in a close encounter in Vanderbijlpark over the weekend.

In the final, Nontle Gwavu’s side beat the fancied Bekezela outfit by 43 goals to 37 to take the coveted Loudon O’Reilly Club Championship Shield for the first time. Absa-NMMU secured their place in the final by winning all of their pool games.

Convener of technical affairs of netball in Nelson Mandela Bay, Reg Sharp, said the strong Gauteng side – who went into the final as favourites – consisted of four national players, with the remainder of the team having represented their province.

He said despite the last-minute withdrawals of seasoned players like Claudette Veldsman and Eulene van der Westhuizen, Absa-NMMU could draw on the strengths of seasoned players such as Protea Zanele Mdodana, South African U/21 star Sameshia Esau, Dumisane Chauke and other promising newcomers.

“We knew we had a strong team and that we stood an excellent chance of doing well. The victory is due to excellent team work and dedication,” a proud Sharp said in a telephonic interview yesterday.

According to him, it was the first time in five years that the national club championships took place, which made the victory so much sweeter.

Apart from the country’s premier club teams, Lesotho’s national team also competed, giving the event an international flavour. The eventual champions showed their class when they convincingly defeated Lesotho (53 – 24) in the preliminary stages.

The Absa-NMMU masters (over 30) team also had an excellent tournament, finishing runners-up in their category. They won all their pool matches, but were outclassed by 39 goals to 10 by the X-Pros from Pretoria in the final.

“We are extremely proud of both teams,” sport manager of netball at NMMU, Theresa le Roux, said yesterday.

She said they were now looking forward to follow the exploits of Mdodana, who was recently included in the Protea team to play in a tri-nations tournament during October. The other two teams will most likely be netball heavyweights Malawi and Trinidad & Tobago.

Twenty-year-old Esau – who was named best defender at the recent Senior National Championships – will represent the SA U/21 team at the Countries of Southern Africa’s Netball Association (Cosana) tournament in Lesotho next month.

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