UFH - Table Tennis - Women - Avela Mamfengu 1 (FSC)

The University of Fort Hare’s women’s team stunned all and sundry by claiming the bronze medal at this year’s USSA table tennis tournament in Bloemfontein.

Very few would have bet on the Eastern Cape institution earning a place on the podium given the fact that they weren’t even able to field a full team last year.

Despite not winning individual medals, the points accumulated by UFH’s ladies were enough to secure third place overall for the team. They also placed fourth in the doubles.

Player-coach Azikile Makaula, who effectively built the team from scratch, described their impact at the prestigious national event as a “very big achievement”.

“We were celebrating all the way home,” she said.

The squad had certainly left no stone unturned in preparing for their date with destiny.

Energy-sapping runs around the Alice campus sports fields at dawn and lunchtime every day for weeks ensured peak fitness for what lay ahead in the City of Roses.

Makaula admitted prior to the tournament that the squad, most of whom had never competed in a major competition, were essentially using the 2023 USSAs as a platform to gain experience.

UFH - Table Tennis - Women - Avela Mamfengu 1 (FSC)

Avela Mamfengu was a member of the Fort Hare women’s team who shocked all and sundry by securing bronze at the USSA tournament in Bloemfontein. Photo: Full Stop Communications

But the players exceeded her expectations and proved a real surprise package for opponents as well.

“They knew we didn’t have a team last year so, when we came third, they were quite shocked.”

Makaula believed their showing would do wonders for the sport at UFH.

She has driven it at the university ever since she walked through the gates to start her studies and, as the interest in the code grew, even started mentoring the players.

Now that they had returned from the Free State with silverware, she expected more students to sign up. The possibility of winning medals is always a big lure.

While not ideal that several players are graduating and therefore exiting the club, Makaula has already proved that she has the ability to take novices to great heights.

“I’m planning on hitting the ground running after registration in 2024.”

She, herself, was knocked out at the quarterfinal stage of the singles.

While her opponent from CPUT had been good, she believed a lack of strong competition in the lead-up to the tournament curtailed her chances of progressing.

Makaula admitted that the dual role of player and coach was a difficult one, especially at a big event like the USSAs.

“We need a proper coach, even for my own game, who can tell me what to correct or whether I should do this or that. Coaching myself and others at the same time is very challenging.”

That said, she and the team were extremely grateful for the support they had received from Fort Hare sports officer Gcobisa Kanuka during the event.