UFH - Basketball - USSA Men's team

Fort Hare’s men’s and women’s basketball teams have one goal in mind when they compete in the University Sports South Africa tournament in Durban next week – climbing the rankings.

With this in mind, the national event is shaping up to be the most important of the season for the Alice-based university, who will compete in the B (women) and C sections (men) from July 5.

The equation is an easy one – top both sections after the round-robin stage to qualify for the knock-out portion of the tournament. The four remaining teams then fight it out in two semifinals and a final in an effort to earn promotion.

An excellent effort by the Fort Hare women in 2022 saw them qualify for the B section this year and coach Thembekile Blaai’s plan is to continue on this upward trajectory.

“We have planned our strategy to win every game in our pool so that next year we can qualify for the A section,” he said.

Blaai was loath to single out individuals who may have an impact in this year’s competition because he expects every player to step up to the plate every time.

“But I do feel that I can mention forward Khanya Buqa, who is playing really well and doing wonders for the team. Yet, it will need a massive team effort as we face the challenge of getting used to the court and conditions in Durban.”

UFH - Basketball - USSA Men's team

The Fort Hare men’s basketball team’s goal is to improve their ranking at the USSA championships in Stellenbosch. The team are, back from left, Lunga Dikana (men’s head coach), Hontse Sandile Thela, Simamnkele Mzilana, Olwin Kankuni, Khanya Ralo, Vuyo Brian Maselana and, front, Ayolile Mabongo, Quluba Mkhanyisi, Paballo Mananyetso, Thembelike Blaai (women’s head coach). Photo: Full Stop Communications

The USSA competition dates were circled on the calendar months ago and the players have been working hard ever since.

“I’m really excited at the opportunity that lies ahead,” the coach said. “I have faith that they will be competitive because they are ready.”

On the other side of the fence, men’s coach Lunga Lungas is all to aware of the tough task ahead as they head into battle against the likes of Central University of Technology and North-West University.

Contrary to what one may think, the team are not littered with giants. But what Fort Hare may lack in stature, they will make up for with a fast-running game and by shooting accurately.

With the exams now behind them, the players have been able to focus on the task at hand and, to this end, have been honing the above skills during their final week of preparation.

Lungas said their strategy was to remain competitive as deep into their matches as they could to always give themselves a shot at victory.

“I have told my players this will be no holiday and they are ready to compete all the way.”

The first objective will be to ace the first phase of the competition to qualify for the semis, which is the gateway to possible promotion.

It is no secret that Fort Hare’s USSA performances have been inconsistent over the years, but the coach feels the team have improved markedly since last November when he took over the reins.

“I am confident we can do well,” he said.

“Our preparations are on track, the players are fit and we know we need to play as a team and stick to the gameplan.”

If they can pull all these strings together while playing quick and structured basketball with a never-say-die attitude, Lungas believes promotion is within their grasp.