UFH - USSA Men's team (FSC) (2)

Fort Hare’s performance at the Universities Boat Race in Port Alfred over the weekend has sounded a warning to tertiary teams around the country – they are here to compete.

After taking home the wooden spoon at last year’s University Sports South Africa (USSA) regatta, the men’s team defeated the strong Rhodes crew in the D-final to secure seventh place – a jump of three spots.

The 2023 USSAs comprised three events over the course of the season: the Buffalo Regatta in February, the sprints in Cape Town at the end of March and the boat race in the Eastern Cape holiday town.

Mcetywa described the men’s team’s rise in the rankings as “momentous” and attributed much of the improvement to continuity and therefore a greater buy-in from the rowers.

When he first arrived at Fort Hare, he encountered a situation where there were “too many guys going in and out of the team”. That scuppered a lot of the long-term work he was trying to do as coach.

Now it is policy to have a turnover of no more than three team members per year, ensuring that there is always enough experience in the squad.

Fort Hare reached the D-final by virtue of a strong performance in the time-trial. That set up the race against Rhodes, who were ultimately unable to match their Alice and East London-based opponents.

The women matched their ninth place finish of last year, but seeing off the likes of Walter Sisulu gave coach Lunga Mcetywa belief that they were a team on the rise.

UFH - USSA Men's team (FSC) (2)

Fort Hare’s men’s rowers, from left, Lisakhanya Mqalo, Alvin Rukuni, Lukhanyo Sifo, Qhamani Kuzani and Sibusiso Msomi punched above their weight at the USSA Boat Race in Port Alfred at the weekend. Photo: Full Stop Communications

They had been laying the foundation for the future by simply competing more this year, Mcetywa explained.

“The more they are exposed to competition the more they are motivated to prepare for events. They are gelling very nicely.”

The coach was beaming after watching his charges apply themselves in Port Alfred.

“It’s made everyone look forward to the next competitions. What is especially pleasing is that the other universities have taken note that we are here to compete, not just make up numbers.”

While the rowing season was officially behind them, Mcetywa hoped to organise a regatta between UFH and WSU in East London in the coming weeks to “keep the guys going” in the off-season.

However one analyses it, the facts show that it has been a memorable year for the class of 2023. They continually punched above their weight on the university circuit and even produced national representatives.

Mcetywa, himself, starred for South Africa at the Africa Beach Sprints competition in Tunisia back in June. On that occasion, the 33-year-old stormed home with partner George du Plooy to take bronze in the doubles.

He had even more reason to smile when one of his UFH rowers, Alvin Rukuni, represented Zimbabwe at the same event.