Despite their proud standing in varsity hockey, the University of Johannesburg men’s and women’s teams know they face a searching challenge in the University Sport South Africa (Ussa) tournament at Wits from July 4 to 8.

The men captured their second straight Varsity Hockey title in the biennial competition this year to add to three straight Ussa titles from 2012 to 2014.

Coach Garreth Ewing said that, given the different format it has compared to the Varsity Hockey competition, they would treat the Ussa tournament as a new challenge.

“We’ve done quite well in recent years, winning three in a row, but last year we came fifth so we are hoping to climb back up the table this year.

“With the eight-team, two-pool format, the tournament is really a bit of a shootout, so anything can happen.”

Although the UJ women are the defending champions, hockey manager Elize le Roux said they would not be getting ahead of themselves.

“While I would love to see them defend the title, there is a process in place to prepare and play each game on its merits. We have to first focus on our pool fixtures before worrying about possible semis or the final.”

They had lost some key players from last year’s side, but Le Roux said UJ were fortunate to have retained the core of their team. They did however receive a blow recently when one of their top players, Carmen Smith, was ruled out through injury.

Due to the congested nature of the tournament, she said several factors were essential for sides in their pursuit of success.

“I do think it differs per institution, but playing five days in a row, often with limited rest in-between, is challenging.

“That is why planning, the team environment and player management become vital,” she said.

“It is important to keep a good routine and to use your build-up period to manage and maintain the players’ performances.”

Ewing said the UJ men had managed to retain a sense of continuity from the Varsity Hockey squad, which should stand them in good stead in a congested schedule.

“We have three new players in Brad Robertson, James du Plessis and Luke Barnard. Unfortunately Leneal Jackson is injured, otherwise it’s the same group as the Varsity Hockey squad.”

He said team ethic would be important in their drive for success.

“Gareth Heyns and Taylor Dart have been influential players for us the whole season, and I think the whole forward line will be key for us too.

“I don’t really want to single anybody out to be honest. Our strength is that everybody has a role to play.

“We are looking forward to the week. The tournament has a special atmosphere and it’s very competitive and it will be a big challenge for all the teams involved.”

Marizen Marais (left) will have a key role to play for the University of Johannesburg in the defence of their Ussa women’s hockey title next month. Photo: Saspa

Issued by: Coetzee Gouws
On behalf of: University of Johannesburg