Southern Gauteng women’s team, the defending IPT champions, were made to sweat until the last moment to make the semi-finals of the Greenfields Senior Interprovincial Nationals at Randburg Hockey Stadium on Thursday because Wits, their B side, pushed them all the way in a quarterfinal that went down to a shootout.
Wits took a third-minute lead when Sissy Pieterse rounded off a great run by Nicole Smith, and then defended with incredible commitment as they utterly frustrated their illustrious colleagues.
Southern Gauteng did manage to level the scores four minutes before halftime as Lisa Hawker neatly deflected in a short corner, but they could not get past inspired goalkeeper Zimi Shange in the second half, mostly because their short-corner work was dire and lacking imagination, and their attacking play was similarly one-dimensional and relied too much upon international star Shelley Russell.
With the scores locked at 1-1 at fulltime, Wits made the shock decision to replace Shange for the shootout. Chloe Keeping had performed very well between the posts in the first half, but it was an inexplicable decision because Shange was in the zone, full of adrenaline and still psyched for the battle.
After 30 minutes of chewing her nails on the bench, it was obviously a big ask for Keeping against Southern Gauteng’s array of international stars and Lisa-Mari Deetlefs, Bernie Coston, Russell and Toni Marks all breezed past her, while Sanani Mangisa in the A side’s goal limited Wits to just two successes.
It was almost the biggest surprise of the tournament, but Southern Gauteng have scraped through and will now play the Spar KZN Raiders in the semi-finals on Friday.
They were not the only side to nearly come unstuck against the enthusiasm and desire to prove something of Wits, with the SA U21s also needing a shootout to beat the Southern Gauteng B side in the men’s quarterfinals.
The excellent short-corner work of Wits kept them in touch with the SA U21s, LeNeal Jackson opening the scoring in the 26th minute and Lance Louw providing the equaliser with seven minutes remaining.
Wits suffered a crucial lapse in concentration at the start of the third quarter, however, with the SA U21s scoring twice in three minutes through captain Alex Stewart and Khumo Mokale.
Wits once again lost out in the shootout, going down 3-0.
The Southern Gauteng men breezed into the semi-finals as they brushed aside Free State 9-0 with little difficulty via two goals each for Gareth Heyns, Julian Hykes and Brandon Panther, but the Free State women provided some objections to their more favoured opponents, Northerns Blues, just cruising through.
Northerns eventually battled through 2-0 with goals from the prolific Jacinta Jubb and Kelly Kaulback.
They will play North-West, who came back from the dead to shock last year’s beaten finalists, Western Province, in a sudden death shootout.
The Western Province women discovered in the opening minute how dangerous North-West are as they swept upfield earning a short corner.
Coach Shaun Hulley is clearly a fan of the short-corner variation and a lovely interchange of passes between Danielle de Wet and Martinette Mans saw Mans score the opening goal.
The Western Province penalty corner set-up is also an accomplished one, however, and, in the sixth minute, Bronwyn Kretzman swept the ball in after a good variation saw the ball go wide left from the castle.
North-West dominated the rest of the first half, earning a couple more short corners without reward, and they also piled on the pressure at the start of the second half. Western Province defended tenaciously however, getting through the tough period and then showed that they are also dangerous on the break as they suddenly burst upfield and Natasha Rootenberg buried the goal deep in the net to give the more fancied team a 2-1 lead.
Four minutes later, Gretchin Davids latched on to a loose ball in the D and flipped it into the goal to give Western Province a comfortable 3-1 lead.
But just two minutes later, they were embroiled in a desperate and ultimately hapless battle for survival as North-West scored twice in quick succession to level the scores (3-3).
The first goal came from a short corner that was initially well-saved by goalkeeper Nicole le Fleur, but Stephanie Baxter slammed the rebound into the net with a fine strike.
North-West were soon back in the Western Province D and although a short corner did not work out for them, they were given a hit just outside the circle. Sulette Damons, who played in the 2012 Olympics and is one of the hopefuls to appear in Rio later this year, took the hit quickly and sent a tremendous reverse-sticks shot rocketing into the goal.
Both teams could only notch a single goal each in the initial shootout round of five shots each, so it went to sudden death.
Baxter (NW) and Heather McEwan (WP) both scored going first for their teams, followed by two misses each. But then Sinalo Jafta produced a top-class piece of improvisation, lobbing the goalkeeper after her initial shot had been saved, to put North-West one-up.
Goalkeeper Anelie van Deventer then produced a last crucial save for North-West, blocking Candice Manuel’s attempt at goal, and North-West were in a semi-final for the first time in many years.
KZN Raiders are the other residents of the women’s semifinals after they held sway over the SA U21s in the other early women’s quarterfinal, beating the international juniors 2-1.
KZN Raiders went 2-0 up through a field goal by Kate Koenig and a short-corner scramble completed by Donna Small, but they courted danger for much of the second half as Anneke Beukman scored to bring the SA U21s to within a goal.
Ultimately, it was a case of experience and strength on the ball that won the day for the Raiders, the SA U21s losing composure at crucial times as well as three players injured on duty.
The other big upset of the day came from the Northerns Blues men, who beat defending champions Western Province 3-1.
Province managed to score first in the 16th minute thanks to a Lloyd Norris-Jones field goal and they held their lead right up to the halftime break.
A Matthew Guise-Brown double strike, once from a penalty stroke and the second from a short corner, in the space of nine minutes put the defending champions on the back foot.
They pressed for an equaliser but it never came, and their fate was sealed four minutes from time as Grant Glutz made it 3-1.
The KZN Raiders men set up arguably the pick of the semifinals, against hosts Southern Gauteng, with a 4-1 victory over Eastern Province.
Raiders managed to convert sustained pressure into a penalty corner and it was duly converted by Ross Hetem and barely a minute later the lead was 2-0 as Stephen Wiggett fired one in from left of goal after being given too much space by the Eastern Province defence.
A Dalan Phillips drag-flick pegged one back for EP in the 46th minute, but two quick goals from Raiders killed off the contest which was scrappy at times.
The Kwa-Zulu Natal outfit were guilty of losing possession too easily but once they strung passes together they whipped through the defence and it showed in the goals by Damien Kimfly and the effort from Cameron Mackay. Both players were able to round off brilliant build-up with their strikes in the 51st and 52nd minutes.
Men’s A Section quarterfinals: Northerns Blues 3 (Matthew Guise-Brown , Grant Glutz) Tuffy Western Province 1 (Lloyd Norris-Jones); KZN Raiders 4 (Ross Hetem, Stephen Wiggett, Damien Kimfly, Cameron MacKay) Eastern Province 1 (Dayan Phillips); SA U21 2 (Alex Stewart, Khumo Mokale) Wits 2 (LeNeal Jackson, Lance Louw), Shootout – SA U21 3 Wits 0; Southern Gauteng 9 (Reza Rosenberg, Gareth Heyns , Brandon Panther , Julian Hykes , Brynn Cleak, Marc Fourie) Free State 0.
Women’s A Section quarterfinals: North-West 3 (Martinette Mans, Stephanie Baxter, Sulette Damons) Tuffy Western Province 3 (Bronwyn Kretzman, Natasha Rootenberg, Gretchin Davids), Shootout – North-West 1 (Elmien Marais) Western Province 1 (Heather McEwan), Sudden death – North-West 2 (Stephanie Baxter, Sinalo Jafta) Western Province 1 (Heather McEwan); Spar KZN Raiders 2 (Kate Koenig, Donna Small) SA U21 1 (Anneke Beukman); Southern Gauteng 1 (Lisa Hawker) Wits 1 (Sissy Pieterse), Shootout – Southern Gauteng 4 (Lisa-Mari Deetlefs, Bernie Coston, Shelley Russell, Toni Marks). Wits 2 (Sissy Pieterse, Jeanine Granger); Northerns Blues 2 (Jacinta Jubb, Kelly Kaulback) Free State 0.
Men’s B Section quarterfinals: North-West 5 (Themba Twani, Essex Mbekeni, Neo Selehelo, Francois Cilliers, Mitesh Makan) SA Country Districts 2 (Gregg French, Henry Cock); WP Peninsula 14 (Warren McEwan , Cameron Ryan , Matthew Becker, Brandon Hanekom , Luthando Jonas, Reece Arendse , Lance de Kock, Timothy Welsh) KZN Inland 0; Zimbabwe 5 (Tendayi Maredza, Cydreck Strach, Newton Mashanyar, Arnold Mpofu ) Northerns B 1 (Jacques Klopper); KZN Mynahs 5 (Dale van der Merwe , Tanner Bottomley, Brendon Smith, Ryan Bradfield) Eastern Gauteng 0.
Women’s B Section quarterfinals: KZN Inland 4 (Tiffany Jones, Stefania Collette, Amy Greaves, Silindile Mbhele) SA Country Districts 1 (Marelie Devereux); WP Peninsula 7 (Aimee Pote , Rosanne Lombard, Danielle Cairns, Kayde Miller, Gabriella de Kock) Southern Gauteng Nuggets 0; KZN Mynahs 3 (Stacey Hiron , Carla van Niekerk) Mpumalanga 0; Zimbabwe 1 (Kendal Revolta) Northerns B 0.
Men’s A Section semifinals: 1.45pm SA U21 v Northerns Blues; 5.15pm KZN Raiders v Southern Gauteng.
Women’s A Section semifinals: 3.30pm Southern Gauteng v Spar KZN Raiders; 7pm North-West v Northerns Blues.
Men’s A Section playoffs: 12pm Wits v Western Province; 3.30pm Eastern Province v Free State.
Women’s A Section playoffs: 1.45pm Wits v SA U21; 5.15pm Western Province v Free State.
Men’s B Section semifinals: 10.15am WP Peninsula v Zimbabwe; North-West v KZN Mynahs.
Women’s B Section semifinals: 8.30am WP Peninsula v KZN Inland; 12pm Zimbabwe v KZN Mynahs.
Men’s B Section playoffs: 10.15am KZN Inland v Northerns B; 12pm SA Country Districts v Eastern Gauteng.
Women’s B Section playoffs: 8.30am Northerns B v Mpumalanga; Southern Gauteng Nuggets v SA Country Districts.