SPAR Madibaz captain Jeanie Steyn (left) has played an influential role for the Nelson Mandela University netball team in the last four years.

The establishment of a high-profile tournament at university level has been the catalyst for netball’s emergence as a marquee sport in South Africa.

Following the impact of Varsity Cup rugby, the Varsity Sports organisation extended its portfolio to include Varsity Netball in 2013 and the sport at Nelson Mandela University – and elsewhere – has been surfing a wave of popularity ever since.

As young players became aware of the opportunities embedded within the game in SA and abroad, the code began luring more and more players.

The strides the sport has made in half a dozen of years was confirmed when the Proteas reached the World Cup semifinals in England in July. And, with the World Cup taking place domestically in 2023, interest is showing no signs of waning.

It has sparked a desire among players to be part of the extravaganza and SPAR Madibaz captain Jeanie Steyn (see related story) is one of those aiming to stick around.

Punching above their weight

Amid the fanfare, the SPAR Madibaz flexed their muscles against their Varsity Netball peers, reaching the semifinals four times in seven years.

This year, under highly-rated coach Lana Krige, they narrowly missed out on the playoffs. Nevertheless, Madibaz Sport netball manager Melinda Goosen is cock-a-hoop about their run of form.

“As one of the smaller universities we have often punched above our weight. We were third in 2013 and last year and fourth twice.”

She believes Varsity Netball has been instrumental in blowing the popularity of the sport out of the water to what she terms “unprecedented” levels. It is now acknowledged as the premier feeder platform for the national team.

SPAR Madibaz captain Jeanie Steyn (left) has played an influential role for the Nelson Mandela University netball team in the last four years.

SPAR Madibaz captain Jeanie Steyn (left) has played an influential role for the Nelson Mandela University netball team in the last four years. Photo: Michael Sheehan

Coming of age

“The growth of netball is something which has been even more significant in recent years,” says Goosen, having witnessed its coming of age first-hand.

“When we reached the semifinals in 2013 it didn’t attract that much attention. But the competition grew and after our 2018 effort we were suddenly fielding calls from all quarters about Madibaz netball.

“Instead of us having to scout for players, people were contacting us for the first time. That has helped us retain home-grown talent, while we have also had enquiries from players in Gauteng, which has a huge netball population.

“Suddenly they are aware of what we are achieving with Madibaz netball and realise that we are a viable option.”

Goosen acknowledges that their depth allows them to dominate local leagues, but their impact goes beyond that. Regionally, Madibaz personnel interact with players and officials in various structures.

“For instance, our players are used by schools to assist with coaching and we obviously want them, whether they be past or present, to put something back into the game.

While the wave of popularity that engulfs the sport shows no signs of breaking, it seems apt that the coastal university is making waves of its own.

FACT BOX

On the rise

As the stakes are raised in the modern era of the sport, the SPAR Madibaz netball team are upping their game in their quest for excellence. This is their path so far:

• Third in Varsity Netball competition in 2013 and 2018

• Fourth in Varsity Netball competition in 2016 and 2017

• Eastern Province premier league titles from 2005 to 2017

• Compete in premier league (top tier) of Ussa tournament

• Produced six national players (Nontle Gwavu, Zanele Mdodana, Zanele Vimbela, Mampho Tsotsetsi, Dumisani Chauke, Jeanie Steyn)

• Lana Krige appointed national Fast Five coach in 2012

*Statistics as at September 30, 2019