The feast of hockey action in Cape Town over the next four weeks kicks off on Monday when the Investec South Africa women’s team take on fellow London 2012 Olympians Belgium at Central Hockey Club in Vygieskraal.
The four-Test series will see SA without major stars in captain Marsha Marescia, world record goalscorer Pietie Coetzee and double Olympian Tarryn Bright but it gives the opportunity for others to stake a claim.
Double Olympian Lenise Marais, a non-nonsense defender, takes over the captain’s armband and the Durban schoolteacher said that the newer players are stepping up to the challenge.
ÔÇ£We have been trying new combinations during the training sessions over the past three days with the aim of gelling into a very competitive unit and the youngsters are putting their hands up.
ÔÇ£When the more experienced girls come in for the World League [at Hartleyvale Hockey Stadium from 22 January] and the Investec Challenge (from February 4 at the same venue] the younger players can provide us with cover in certain areas,ÔÇØ said Marais.
The second Test is on Wednesday -ÔÇôonce again at Central HC ÔÇô while the third Test kicks off at 6pm Friday at Hartleyvale. The final Test is 3pm on Saturday at the same venue.
ÔÇ£We are in a new phase of where the team is going and are trying to build a culture of winning,ÔÇØ said Marais.
The Rio 2016 Olympics is the ultimate aim in this new four-year cycle, but the KZN Coastal Raiders kingpin said there were also more immediate goals in mind. Finishing in the top two at the World League event in Cape Town in order to qualify for the WL semi-finals in Europe in June is one of them.
ÔÇ£In terms of time scale we are also looking at what we can do in the next two years as we head towards the 2014 World Cup [in Holland] and 2014 Commonwealth Games [in Glasgow],ÔÇØ said Marais, who added that the Investec Challenge in early February against world number one and London 2012 gold medallists Holland, bronze medallists England (Great Britain) and high-achieving Australia would be another opportunity to measure where the SA team are in terms of growth.
ÔÇ£With this in mind, we are undoubtedly in it to win it against the Belgians,ÔÇØ said Marais.
The SA team for the Belgium series will be named at the conclusion of the national squad training camp Monday morning.