Spar challenge - Pearson winners 2023

Pearson scored with a handful of seconds left on the clock to win their maiden Gqeberha Coastal title in the SPAR Eastern Cape Schoolgirls Hockey Challenge at Victoria Park High in Gqeberha yesterday.

A courageous defensive effort saw them repeatedly repulse a series of attacks from Woodridge to finally force a penalty corner inside the final minute with the scores deadlocked at 0-0.

The first effort was kept out, but they were awarded a second corner and Pearson’s Isabelle Hofmeyr was able to latch on to the ball in a goalmouth melee and get it over the line for a dramatic 1-0 triumph.

It was fourth time lucky for the Pearson outfit following losses in the regional finals to Collegiate in 2016, 2021 and 2022.

Defending champions Collegiate suffered a setback when Woodridge edged them 1-0 in the semi-finals, while Pearson shaded Alexander Road by the same margin in the other semi.

After three near-misses, Pearson coach Ignatius Malgraff felt the title was just reward for the school’s investment in the sport, which has resulted in greater numbers and the construction of a second astroturf.

“It has put a lot into developing the sport and I feel this is another step in the right direction. It seems it is paying off and now we want to continue to keep the Pearson name up there to grow the brand.”

He paid tribute to their opponents – coached by Jason Syce – in the title-decider.

Spar challenge - Pearson winners 2023

The Pearson team which won the Gqeberha Coastal leg of the SPAR Eastern Cape Schoolgirls Hockey Challenge at Victoria Park High in Gqeberha yesterday was, back from left, Winray Christoffels (assistant coach), Ignatius Malgraff (head coach), Cara Nel (captain), Jorja Andrews (vice-captain), Nuriyah Bell, Jodi Wilson, Isabelle Hofmeyr, Devon Moore, Kaylin Roberts, Annemi de Villiers, Zanike Coetzer, Laura Munnik (manager), and front, Caitlin Manley, Jody van Aardt, Nina Ferreira, Jayde O’Halloran, Zoey Mostert, Sarah Theunisseun, Nyssa Slabbert and Danielle de Jager (biokineticist). Photo: Supplied

They played “really well” in the semis, according to Malgraff, which meant Pearson had to dissect their performance to get into the right mind-set for the all-or-nothing championship match.

The games, played over 20-minutes each, could be a lottery but you always had a chance if you managed to get on the scoreboard, he said.

“But kudos to Woodridge. They have worked very hard and Jason has done wonderful things with the team, so it was no easy game.”

The team’s performance at the SPAR Schoolgirls Hockey Challenge was a confident booster ahead of the St Mary’s Festival in Johannesburg, which will be contested using the same format this coming weekend.

“We learnt a lot from this tournament and defended well, but understand that we can’t keep absorbing that sort of pressure. We have to put the pressure on our opponents too.”

Tournament director Matthew Blair said it had been special to host a full field of 12 teams.

“It was great to see the competitiveness and camaraderie as you guys went toe-to-toe with each other,” he said when addressing the players afterwards.

The tournament offers an opportunity to compete at the highest level as it bridges the gap between the province’s top and up and coming teams.

“I also want to pay a special tribute to the umpires, who sometimes don’t get thanked enough,” said Blair.

“It’s probably the only job where failures are highlighted and successes are ignored. We are not ignoring you and appreciate everything you have done.”

The first regional tournament in this year’s five-event series went the way of Makhanda’s DSG in Graaff-Reinet earlier this month.

The remaining events, all in May, are Southern Cape, East London Coastal and East London Inland.