By Mark Etheridge
In the wake of South Africa’s victory in the U17 boys’ EU Nations Cup in the Czech Republic, the country’s girls team has brought back more silverware from the same country.
The boys beat England in their Nations Cup final and the girls went down in their final, also against England.
Coached by Pearson High School coach Luke Manthe, the girls played their tournament in the Czech capital of Prague, while the boys were based in the city of Brno.
The girls lost 12-7 in the final, after having won all four of their games prior to that. They opened with a 23-4 victory against Wales, followed up with a 12-10 result against Israel, both matches played on the same day.
Day two saw them beating Malta 29-4 and Ireland 16-5. That meant they topped Pool A and came up against Pool B winners England.
The South Africans were 4-0 down after the first chukka, but pulled back to 5-3 at the halfway stage before England pulled away. The South African goals came from Leah Bullough (2), Paige Tancrel (2), Kate Hinrichs, Courtney O’Shaughnessy and Megan Swanepoel (a goal apiece).
Bullough shared the Nations Cup captaincy duties with Emma Herbert and Nthatisi Mota.
Eastern Cape-based Manthe was full of praise for his team, but pointed out the disadvantage South African teams are often faced with.
‘The warm-up games versus Czech Republic, England, Israel, Germany and the local U17 boys side proved to be monumental in the warm-up for the tournament. It set the pace and the expectations of the girls right from the word go.
‘But as usual with the South Africa teams, we don’t spend enough time together to focus on certain attack and defence principles. Financially this becomes impossible as all the tours abroad are self-funded by the players/parents.
Manthe (pictured coaching the girls, above) continued: ‘Once we cross this bridge, South Africa water polo will grow from strength to strength. South Africa were too slow on the transition from defence to attack and then attack to defence, which played a massive role in the loss to the English, as they were always just one step ahead.
‘That the English proved to be a powerhouse in the pool was no fluke. ‘They had spent 10 days in Hungary prior to the tournament and have spent the last three years together as a unit, meeting one weekend a month, and as such were always going to be a tough contender.
‘Also, the only international caps many of the girls had won were against Zimbabwe in February this year. Compared to many of the teams competing in the tournament, they had the least international experience. Countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Israel were covered financially by their federations, which brought a level of professionalism to the tournament.’
For her part, co-captain Bullough, a Grade 11 pupil at Reddam House in Cape Town, said the tour did wonders for the growth of both the sport and the players.
‘We started off as a team where half of the girls had played together and the other half hadn’t, so there was definitely some team building that had to take place, but throughout the pre-tour training and practice matches we grew into a strong unit and at the tournament we played as a team and did it very successfully. Each game it just got better and better, and by the end of the tournament it looked as if we were a team that has been playing with each other for many months.
‘When we were put under pressure, some of us went back to our old habits and started playing individually for a few attacks, but that was sorted very quickly. Other than that, I don’t feel like we as a team had any stand-out weaknesses.’
On being one of three captains she says: ‘Co-captaining was not new to me and it’s something I enjoy very much. Being able to talk to two other players on the same leadership level as you in the team is comforting because we could then connect and discuss the negatives and the positives in the team, and then chat to the team about their thoughts and opinions on certain things.
‘It was also great to have back-up when leading the team. The three of us were also all from different provinces, me from Western Province, Emma from KZN and Nthatisi from Central Gauteng, and that stopped cliques and separation between the provinces from developing.
Top goalscorers for South Africa were Ana Trininic with 14; Bullough with 12 of her own and Kate Hinrichs also with 12.
The full squad of players in Prague was: Emma Herbert (KZN), Tasmin Waite (CGA), Nthatisi Mota (CGA), Maria Diedricks (KZN), Kate Hinrichs (CGA), Elizabeth Williamson (NMBA), Ana Trninic (CGA), Leah Bullough (WPA), Megan Swanepoel (CGA), Leila Fernandes (CGA), Paige Trancel (KZN), Hannah Reid (NMBA), Courtney O’Shaugnessy (CGA).
Coaching staff: Luke Manthe and Candace Williams
In the main picture: Goalkeeper Waite brings off a great save
Pictured below (left to right) back row: Trninic, Williamson, Hinrichs, Reid, Diedricks, Swanepoel, Tancrel; Front: Fernandes, Mota, Waite, Herbert, Bullough, O’Shaugnessy