There is little doubt that it will be a baptism of fire for several members of the University of Fort Hare’s beach volleyball team when they report for USSA duty on Durban’s beaches this week.
While several of the 12 players (six men and six women) have done battle in previous editions of the event, others are completely new to the scaled down, outdoor format.
What’s more, due to the end-of-year exams, the touring party could only transfer their practice sessions to sand in East London on Tuesday – a mere two days before leaving for the KwaZulu-Natal showpiece.
This, UFH women’s coach Trezah Nyathi-Ncube said, would present an entirely new challenge for those members who specialise in the indoor version of the sport.
“We only have two ladies who have played beach volleyball at this level before. The rest are new,” she said, also pointing out that teams consist of two players.
“Most are used to having five other players supporting them on the court. We are also not used to playing outdoors.”
As such, she was not putting too much pressure on the newcomers to deliver the goods. Instead, she was encouraging them to have fun and view their time up north as a learning experience.
That said, she did expect her pair of beach volleyball “veterans” to be competitive.
Nyathi-Ncube had been deliberate in her selection of three first-year students and three who would be returning to Fort Hare next year.
“I chose a team that can grow over the coming years. If I introduce them this early, I will have a monster team by the third year.”
She acknowledged that it had been difficult to get the ladies – Nanda Fuzile, Qhayiya Nkohla, Fezeka Senzela, Nasiphi Myeki, Minati Qina and Anele Mantongwana – ready with only two days of training on the sand.
The focus was on making small adjustments to their indoor game, learning how to move well on the beach and how to deal with the wind.
UFH men’s coach Prince Ncube also found the two-day training window difficult but was confident his six charges – Musa Motlhabane, Someleze Beliwe, Winile Ntuli, Macline Mapikure, Vuyolwetu Hlabiso and Khanya Madikizela – would be competitive.
He, too, had younger members who had to be given a “crash course” in the format.
Ncube realised that the USSA indoor finalists’ opponents would be going all out to topple them, even though the format was completely different.
Despite not playing a lot of oceanside volleyball, Fort Hare was always competitive, he said.
“We’ve been in the top eight at USSAs for a while now. We are a bunch of players who have a lot of pride.
“We are not there to participate but compete.”
Like Nyathi-Ncube, he was looking to build a solid foundation for the years to come.
“That is how it goes with university sport. You build for two or three years. In the third year the team is on fire and then they leave and you have to start again.”