The University of Fort Hare’s stunning victory in the final of the Sasol women’s league national playoffs yesterday marked a run of 21 games without a single defeat.
The streak stretched across the Sasol league coastal stream, provincial playoffs and, most importantly, the national playoffs.
This not only speaks to their quality but also their determination to break new ground for the academic institution.
The Fort Hare women also qualified for next season’s elite Hollywoodbets Super League by virtue of their perfect display in the City of Roses.
To become first-time winners of all three Sasol tournaments in the same season is nothing short of remarkable.
It was therefore no surprise that they were still coming to terms with what they had achieved as they made their way back from Bloemfontein today.
They lifted the national trophy after defeating Lindelani Ladies 4-3 in a tension-filled penalty shootout – the second time in three days they had held their nerve from the spot.
The score was locked at 0-0 at the conclusion of the 90 minutes.
Thabisa Baleni showed exactly why she was later named Goalkeeper of the Tournament. Two crucial saves in the shootout gave UFH the advantage they needed to top the podium and pocket the R200 000 prize-money.
Baleni replaced Unathi Gcamgcam, who proved invaluable in goal in the semifinal against Croesus Ladies, in one of two forced changes for the final.
Elated coach Asanda Mnakaniso said the players were in football heaven and were looking forward to arriving back in Alice, where the celebrations would continue.
He praised his charges for the way they responded to the challenge in the final, including those who had come into the side after two late injuries.
Lindelani were no pushovers and were a good attacking team, he said.
“They were very aggressive up front and played to long ball to test us in the air but we kept them out,” he said.
The magnitude of what they had done was not lost on him, and in his view there was no doubt women’s football at Fort Hare had never been stronger.
“We beat teams from all nine provinces. In total there are about 144 teams and we are the champions.”
But, as much as Mnakaniso was revelling in their accomplishment, he was already thinking about the University Sports South Africa (USSA) tournament in December.
Laying the foundations for the Super League, where UFH will rub shoulders with the best in the land, will also keep him busy for weeks to come.
“There’s no rest,” he said.
He was also pleased that, at this stage, it looked like the majority of his squad would remain intact.
While older players are excluded from the USSAs, he will still be working with them to keep them sharp ahead of women’s football’s premier competition, where giants Mamelodi Sundowns reign supreme.