Three University of Johannesburg hockey stars will play a critical role in South Africa’s bid to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games at the World League semi-final tournament in Valencia, Spain, from June 10 to 21. Striker Lilian Du Plessis, forward Bernadette Coston and defender Lisa Deetlefs, who are all regulars in the national women’s squad, were once again on the team sheet released earlier this week. According to the criteria set by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, the team must finish in the top six at the tournament to stand a chance of competing in Rio.
South Africa, who are currently ranked 11th in the world, will face a tough draw against some of the top hockey-playing nations, including Argentina, the United States of America, Germany and Great Britain. Their male counterparts are already out of Olympic contention. UJ hockey manager Elize Le Roux said Du Plessis, Coston and Deetlefs were all invaluable members of the university’s team and would play a key role in their country’s ambitions.
The youngest of the trio, Du Plessis, impressed as an impact player in the recent Varsity Hockey competition, which saw UJ win the title for the second year in a row. The first-year education student was named player of the match against Maties and Wits and also claimed the star striker award in the semi-final against Tuks. Le Roux said Du Plessis had returned from a stint with the Belgium-based KHC Dragons shortly before the Varsity Hockey competition: ‘We’re certain her time with this European Hockey League team will also stand her in good stead for South Africa’s campaign in Spain.’
She said the experienced Deetlefs and Coston were not eligible for Varsity Hockey, having exceeded the 25-year age limit, but would be part of the university’s side for the annual University Sport South Africa championship, which follows the World League semi-finals at the end of the month. Le Roux said chiropractic masters student Coston, who was named UJ Sportswoman of the Year last season, was a great ambassador for the club: ‘She’s definitely a role model. Bernadette is very committed and hardworking and her success is evident in her performance on and off the field.’ She added that Deetlefs, who is completing her advanced certificate in business management, was always solid and reliable in defence.
Le Roux attributed the university’s success to, among other aspects, good coaching structures and sound player management, saying: ‘It’s very important for us to support the player on and off the field. We have a number of structures in place and take a well-rounded approach using biokinetics, physiotherapy, sport psychology, nutrition and academic support. Another big prospect is the pro-active recruitment strategy that we have in place.’ This was bearing fruit, she said, with six female players included in the Under-21 Junior World Cup squad for 2016. Marizen Marais, Kristen Paton, Cheneal Raubenheimer and Demi Harmse were also part of the 2014 Youth Olympics team, with Chloe Keeping and Carmen Smith joining them in the Junior World Cup squad: ‘We also have two gents – Kyle Lion-Cachet and Matthew Martins – in the men’s squad.’
Photo: Striker Lilian Du Plessis (right), seen here in action during a Varsity Hockey match against Tuks, is one of three University of Johannesburg hockey stars that will play a critical role in South Africa’s bid to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games at the World League semi-final tournament in Valencia, Spain, from June 10 to 21.