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Underwater bronzes for SA at world champs

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The South African underwater hockey women’s teams have converted to pride the bitter disappointment of losing in the semi-finals at the World Championships in Hobart, Australia, as both the U19 and U23 women won bronze.

Both teams worked hard for a shot at the gold, but the U19 women where denied a spot in the finals by hosts Australia, who beat them  in a hard semi-final on Friday. The 2015 world champions were very disappointed not to have a chance to defend their title in the finals. They went on to beat Colombia 3-0 in the bronze medal game to secure a place on the podium at least.

The significance of the 2015 victories over New Zealand, when the SA U19 women beat them in the round robin and again in the finals, was again emphasised by the fact that the New Zealand U19 women did not lose a match during this world championships. The games where they lost against SA were the first and only games that the New Zealand women have ever lost since the start of the U19 league.

The SA U23 women (pictured above) lost the semi-final against (2015 World Champions) Colombia on Friday, after beating Colombia 1-0 in the round robin stages (through a goal in the last 20 seconds). The semi-final was a well-balanced match, but in the end the South Africans lost 2-1.

For several players in the SA team, the game against Colombia was a case of deja vu, having faced them in semi-finals often before. For captain Eleanor de Kock and Zandre Coetzee, it was their fourth semi-final in a row against Colombia, after losing to them in 2013 (U19). Winning in 2015 (U19) and winning in 2016 (elite); making it a 2-2 semi-final score for them against Colombia. For Moya, Julia, Thea and Jordynne it was also their second or third semi vs Colombia.

They then went on to beat Great Britain 1-0 in a very hard bronze-medal game on Saturday. This was the first U23 medal ever (women or men) for South Africa and with many of the current team still eligible, and many of the 2015 U19 world champions going up to U23 for 2019, SA are set to have a very good U23 women team in Sheffield,  Great Britain, in 2019. With a lot of hard work over the next 24 months, they can only improve on their bronze.

The U23 women played New Zealand, Australia, Colombia, Great Britain, Canada, France and Argentina on their way to bronze this year.

De Kock scored  the joint second-most goals of the tournament, with 10 goals, and Coetzee fourth-most, with nine. Coetzee topped the table throughout the round robin stages until they were both passed by Olivia Sanderson from Australia (11 goals), and Courtney Coughlan from New Zealand (10 goals), in the playoffs. Jordynne Elferink from SA was fifth, with eight goals.

Despite not achieving the goal of 3 golds in a row that they worked so hard for, De Kock and Coetzee achieved a unique milestone, becoming the only South African underwater hockey players to have won World Championship medals in three age categories (U19 gold in 2015, Elite gold in 2016 and now U23 bronze). They will both still be U23 in 2019, and will be working hard to turn that bronze to gold in Sheffield.

De Kock has now played in five world championships since 2011 and has been on the podium every time. For Coetzee and Moya Moorcroft, it is their fourth world and fourth podium, and for several of their teammates this was their second podium. The U19 women have also had several trips to the podium, with captain Calista Pake and Helen Van Rhyn having had three podium places since 2013.

The U19 Men and the U23 men both played excellent play-off matches against France on Thursday, but both narrowly missed out in very hard matches. The U23 men lost their place in the semis, losing 1-0 only in a match that could have gone either way. The U19 Men’s team consisted of eight new players, of whom most will still be U19 in 2019, and with a lot of hard work they can improve on 2017.

For the U23 men, a change in the way they prepare is most likely the only way to get a first podium spot for them in 2019. The level of preparation of 2017 champions, Turkey, and the other semi-finalists, France, New Zealand and Australia, may be just a step above what we can achieve with the resources and funds we have available in SA. The young men (and for that matter the young women) have to train for more than 15 hours a week and attend regular training camps, all while being students or starting out in jobs.

For De Kock and Coetzee, and hopefully several more of the U23 (and U19) women, the hard work continues. They now prepare to trail to make the SA Elite team to defend their World Championship title from 2016 in Canada next year. The SA Elite & Masters Men are also working hard to improve on their recent performances in Canada. The Masters women won silver in Stellenbosch in 2016 and in Hungary in 2013.


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