The search for the next champions will get underway in earnest when the finals of the SPAR Eastern Cape Schoolgirls Hockey Challenge take place at Collegiate High in Gqeberha on August 13 and 14.
It will be the first grand finale since Covid struck and tournament director Matt Blair was happy to see the tournament come full circle for the first time in three seasons.
“After our first full hockey season since 2019 we are very excited to finish it off on a high note,” he said.
“We wish all the ladies who will be travelling to Gqeberha a memorable experience. We know that they will enjoy the camaraderie of the occasion while competing in the right spirit for provincial honours.”
Blair said the tournament would feature a unique first when an all-female umpiring team hit the astro this weekend.
“Naturally, the focus is on the players. But the competition also provides a platform for aspiring umpires to prove their credentials and we are incredibly excited about this development.”
The finals are the culmination of the annual challenge which saw hundreds of schoolgirls compete in five regional tournaments around the Eastern and Southern Cape.
One of the key drivers is to expose young players to competition that they wouldn’t have competed against in the past. Umtata High School, for example, made their debut this season.
Their coach, Sihle Nadame, said there had been great anticipation before the East London Inland leg, the regional tournament in which they participated.
“Because we don’t have any other hockey teams to play in and around Mthatha, we are affiliated to the Amathole Sports Association and have to travel considerable distances to play teams such as Stutterheim, George Randell and Berlin,” he explained.
“When I heard about the Schoolgirls Hockey Challenge, I thought it was a great chance to give the girls some further exposure.”
SPAR EC sponsorships and events manager Alan Stapleton said the family retailer were “really pleased” that the challenge had returned to a full programme.
“It is very special that we have been able to host a spectrum of schools at these events, giving them the opportunity to compete, have fun and make new friends.”
He said the event perfectly showcased the values that SPAR promoted.
“It helps us to underline SPAR’s commitment to supporting women’s sport,” said Stapleton. “It also gives us the chance to interact with the youth and spread a message of community and family support within a competitive but fun-based environment.”
The regional champions that will contest the provincial finals are Collegiate (champions in 2016), Clarendon (champions in 2017), DSG, Outeniqua and Queenstown Girls’ High.
Collegiate and Queenstown Girls’ High will open the programme at 3.30pm on Saturday and play will continue until Sunday morning.
The teams will contest a round-robin, with the top two qualifying for Sunday’s final at 11.30am.