Cape Town - After many years of playing the game at all levels, the experience and coaching pedigree of Olympian Lenise Marais will stand the South African team in good stead at the upcoming Junior Hockey Women’s World Cup in Potchefstroom, starting on December 5.
National women’s hockey stalwart Marais, who campaigned at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, has been entrusted with the job of mentoring the SA team. She has managed to whip the squad into shape despite serious challenges posed by the pandemic over the past year.
The Junior Hockey Women’s World Cup in Potchefstroom will mark the first time a hockey World Cup is played on African soil.
Apart from the World Cup preparations, Marais oversees the progress of the girls’ youth team so that they graduate to the senior ranks as mature, confident players. She is happy with the team’s progress to date.
“After I was appointed at the end of 2019, the pandemic impacted our JWC preparations significantly, but we have adjusted our plans as and when needed to,” said Marais.
“The staff and players have displayed such resilience throughout these times, and can only be commended for their commitment and willingness to adapt to the changing circumstances.
“We have been fortunate to have had several training and selection camps, and are about to enter the final phases of our preparation shortly.”
Marais is not predicting a podium finish when the tournament ends on December 16, but she’s confident the team will give a good account of itself.
“The talent in this age group bodes well for the future of women’s hockey in South Africa,” said Marais.
“The camaraderie within the group speaks to the shared values and culture the staff and players have committed to from the outset of this journey together.
“Our focus will be on executing our individual skills and collective game strategies to the best of our abilities.
“It is sometimes difficult to judge the playing strengths of nations at junior level. However, we are mindful of how nations typically perform at a senior level.
“The Netherlands will undoubtedly come into the tournament as favourites, while many of the other European nations will also be tough competitors.
“Canada won the Pan-America qualifier, and seem to be a well organised and capable team. Argentina will be up for the battle of defending their title as current JWC winners.
“The Asian teams will also be skilful and very well organised.
“The games will be challenging, and the beauty of this event is that it will be exciting to witness the future stars of our game in action.”
There is an excellent support structure for both the players and the coaching staff. Marais feels the support staff have monitored and guided the preparation in a professional manner.
“Our team manager, Lynn Abrahamse, has been a pillar of strength and support,” said Marais.
“Organising camps, training sessions over the past 18 months have been challenging, due to the dynamic lockdown levels and restrictions.
“However, Lynn has remained focused, and admirably executed her role regardless of the numerous changes to our programme.
“She has been a rock for the players and staff. The coaching staff of Marcelle Keet, Bevan Bennett, Luke Makeleni and Marcel Lamont have been exceptional in their roles thus far. They have worked tirelessly in their areas of expertise.
“As the coach, I am appreciative for all they have contributed to the players and team environment.
“The Maties Hockey Club staff have supported and encouraged me this year. The Maties Sport High Performance Unit has helped in my journey as a high performance coach.”
Off the field, Marais is a self-confessed hockey nerd and an avid sports fan who loves cricket and football. It is what wakes her up on a typical day.
“I am a hockey nerd who enjoys reading – the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series are my favourites, and watching sport,” said Marais.
“I’m a huge cricket fan, and would jump at the chance to chat cover drives with Laura Wolvaardt (Proteas Women opening batter).
“I also support Everton Football Club.
“I am a focused and determined person who aspires to make a difference each day. A typical day starts with a commute along the R44 while taking in the picturesque, rugged mountains, beautiful vineyards and rolling strawberry fields from Somerset West to Stellenbosch.
“As the Maties Hockey head coach, I have meetings and planning sessions in the morning and afternoon, and then practice sessions in the evening.
“My days can become quite long, and I do sometimes get lost down the hockey rabbit hole, but I am exceedingly privileged to be in the position that I am.”
The Junior Hockey Women’s World Cup, the biennial women’s Under-21 field hockey world championship, run under auspices of the International Hockey Federation, will be the ninth version of the event and will be played from December 5-16 in Potchefstroom.