Fort Hare’s netballers made the best possible start to this year’s University Sports South Africa competition in Stellenbosch by downing the University of Mpumalanga 45-42 on Monday.
While only three points separated the sides, it was just the confidence-booster the UFH women needed ahead of their five remaining fixtures in the picturesque Western Cape town.
The round-robin phase of the tournament concludes on Thursday, with the playoffs starting at the weekend.
Coach Nomxolisi Luvuno said that although the opener against Mpumalanga had been a “scrappy” affair at times, the team generally played well.
“We were checking out different combinations to see which ones worked. I think we’ve sorted that out now and are looking forward to our other games,” she said.
“It’s a good foundation for the rest of the week.”
The trip from the UFH campuses in East London and Alice to Stellenbosch was obviously exhausting, but Luvuno said they had enlisted the services of a conditioning coach to help them recover in time for Monday’s clash.
Judging by the team’s perseverance on the Maties court, this move proved to be just what the doctor ordered.
Luvuno had faith that her charges could go toe-to-toe with the best in the land. The combination of experienced players and her “new babies” put the team in a good position to rival most opposition, she said.
“The spirit is good. There were things prior to the match that were not in place, but after today’s (Monday) win there will be a lot of unity among the girls.”
The form of shooter Unganathi Klaas will certainly be welcomed in the camp. She was introduced by Luvuno in the last quarter of the game to great effect.
Her impact was immense as she helped give Fort Hare the lead and the victory.
“She really stepped up for the girls,” Luvuno said.
Her experienced players, some of whom have been with the team for the past three years, understand that doing well at the 2023 USSAs is important if Fort Hare is to be a powerhouse on the country’s netball scene.
As is often the case in university sport, balancing practice with the students’ studies is difficult for coaches, but Luvuno has adopted a strategy of training those players who are available at any given time.
“You can’t do anything when someone says they are writing an exam or a test, so I have just tried to fit everyone in our netball training programme. After the exams we had a camp, and that’s when everything started to gel for us.”
While it was still early days in the tournament, Luvuno believed Central University of Technology Welkom would present a big challenge to most teams but added that it was nothing they could not handle.
“We will pitch up when we play them.”
She said confidence would be key this week.
“I have to be confident for my girls to be confident. If my girls know that I trust them they will give me the results that I’m expecting.”