UFH - Women's soccer captain Okuhle Stemela

The women’s soccer team of the University of Fort Hare will hope to score one more position in the Sasol Women’s League when they kick off their 2023 campaign in Gqeberha on Saturday.

The Alice outfit open their Coastal stream programme in a much anticipated Eastern Cape derby against Madibaz at Nelson Mandela University.

The occasion will be a clash between two of the top three sides from last year’s league, when Fort Hare finished runners-up behind Sophakama Football Club.

UFH have steadily climbed the rankings in the seven years they have been competing in the league, rising to number three out of the 18 sides across the two streams last year. Their season’s tally was 12 wins from 16 games with only one loss.

Coach Asanda Mnakaniso said they had set themselves the goal of maintaining the upward curve of their ranking and were therefore on a mission to hunt down the top two sides in the competition.

He felt they could bank on some continuity from last season and explained that their approach was modelled on the individual brilliance of players.

“By taking the different skills and abilities of each player, we have been able to forge one tactical weapon – be it on attack, in midfield or on defence. It’s very much about merging all those talents.”

Mnakaniso, who took the mentorship job in 2021, felt the team were ready to compete after three pre-season practice games. However, in a competition divided into Coastal and Inland streams, he knew better than most that things could unravel in an instant.

UFH - Women's soccer captain Okuhle Stemela

University of Fort Hare women’s soccer team captain Okuhle Stemela has declared her players war ready ahead of their opening Sasol Women’s League encounter against Madibaz in Gqeberha on Saturday. Photo: Supplied

Both streams had teams filled to the brim with top-quality players who were being mentored by experienced coaches, he said. In their stream, he felt there were several in the running for league honours.

“I believe we, for sure, are contenders.”

He also named reigning champions Sophakama, Madibaz and Golden Stars as sides to watch in the Coastal section.

This weekend’s clash against Madibaz will be a tester as the team from Gqeberha ended last season on a high after dismantling Sophakama 2-0 at home.

“We know exactly what they are capable of when they play at their home ground.”

UFH played and beat Madibaz twice last season but Mnakaniso pointed out that their opponents, as newcomers to the league, were still finding their feet.

Each stream in the Sasol Women’s League consists of nine teams and therefore the home and away format makes it a leg-sapping total of 16 matches.

Those finishing at the top of their respective logs will play in cross-section games to determine who will represent the Eastern Cape in the provincial playoffs against eight other teams.

“From there the top two teams qualify for the Super League, the top division in the country,” explained Mnakaniso.

Captain Okuhle Stemela said his players were “war ready” and the goal was to celebrate winning the title – not good performances.

Besides their ambitions in the league, UFH will make their debut in the Varsity Football tournament. After Walter Sisulu University qualified in 2018, the team from Alice will only be the second team from the province to play in the country’s premier tertiary competition.

The season-opener against Madibaz kicks off at 3pm.