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Johannesburg – The South African netball team next month takes on the top netball countries in the world in the Quad Series in Australia and New Zealand.
The sixth-ranked team will face Australia, New Zealand and England.
Netball SA (NSA) selectors picked a team that blends youth and experience, with captain Amanda Mynhardt and vice-captain Zanele Mdodana boasting nearly 100 caps between them.
At the other end of the scale, Melissa Myburgh, who made her debut earlier this year, has just one cap, while Karla Mostert has five and Vanes-Mari du Toit eight.
Coach Elize Kotze said it was a great compliment that South Africa had been invited to take part in the tournament, rather than third-ranked Jamaica.
“After our performance in the World Championships in Singapore last year, where we came fifth, the top countries have recognised that we are a very competitive team. We have been making steady progress since then.
“We were able to beat Jamaica for the first time in 45 years when we toured there earlier this year, and then we had a very good series against Northern Ireland.”
The team has since then beaten the fifth-ranked Malawi to win the Diamond Challenge, proving the sport was on an upward trajectory.
“When we play against the top four teams, we are playing on a totally different level. The standard is so much higher and we will learn so much from the Quad Series.
“At the end of it, we will know exactly where we stand, and what we need to do to compete with the best at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. The only way to grow is to play against the top teams.”
The team will attend a pre-departure event from October 3 to 8 before the tour starts in Adelaide on October 14 and ends in Hamilton, New Zealand on November 1.
This means the team will be away from home for more than a month, which makes team selection difficult.
Three of the country's top black players Precious Mthembu, Simnikiwe Mdaka and Nontle Gwavu could not be selected because of work commitments.
While NSA president Mimi Mthethwa was pleased with the team, she said it was regrettable the three could not join the squad.
Kotze said the time the players would spend away from their day jobs made it difficult to select the team.
“Four of top players were not available because of high priority jobs, while Erin Burger still hasn't totally recovered from an injury,” Kotze said.
The Proteas attended a rigorous training camp at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport at the weekend, during which they continued their work with eye-training specialist Dr Sherylle Calder.
Kotze was overjoyed with the results of Calder's work.
“We have been working with her for a couple of months, and the improvement is amazing,” Kotze said.
“The players have all been working very hard on their Eye Gym exercises, and you can see the effect on their speed and their decision-making.
“You could see it during the Diamond Challenge, when they were finding spaces they had never seen before.”
Proteas team: Chrisna Bootha, Maryka Holtzhausen, Melissa Myburgh, Lindie Lombard, Nadia Uys, Bongiwe Msomi, Thuli Qegu, Zanele Mdodana (vice-captain), Vanes-Mari du Toit, Karla Mostert, Amanda Mynhardt (captain), Adele Niemand. – Sapa