The men’s defending champions may already have the edge on some of the other teams heading into the Premier Hockey League in just 10 days’ time.
With 13 of their players all based in Gauteng, the Maropeng Cavemen have managed to have a few training sessions together ahead of the tournament which kicks off at the Randburg Astro on November 25.
Confidence is high that they’ll be able to defend the title they claimed in 2016
“We always say we’re confident. I always go out there to win so I don’t have any other mind-set,” said coach of the side Mark Sanders. “We don’t want to be arrogant about it but we will be confident about our ability and our team’s ability. Looking at the other teams – they’ve all got better as well with their draft picks. It was a big challenge last year and this year’s going to be no different.”
Speaking about their pre-tournament practices, Sanders explained: “There is some method behind the way I choose players. It’s not solely based on location, but it does have some merit in it. It’s not to be frowned upon – the more we have guys training together and getting our set-pieces right and all that now, it’s only going to bode well.
As for the tournament itself, Sanders added: “Our principle is defend to win and when we do have an opportunity to score, we take it – and minimise the number of goals we concede. If we can tighten up our defensive structure, then we’re always going to be there and in with a shout to win.”
Meanwhile, for Lindsey Wright, coach of the 2016 women’s winners, the Blyde River Bunters, having the tag of defending champions going into the PHL means nothing.
“That was the team of 2016 so that belongs to those girls and this is a new team this year and we’ll create new goals,” she explained. “I don’t want them to even think about themselves as being defending champions. They’re merely getting an opportunity to create their own destiny and legacy.
“The title’s up for grabs for anybody and if the Bunters want to claim that title, they’re going to have to put their hands up with consistent performances throughout each and every game. That’s the challenge and I think that’s what’s exciting all the players. I’m looking forward to it. There’s a bunch of great coaches and I’m sure they’re all going to get the best out of their teams.”
Also, rather than focusing on that winner’s medal, for Wright it’s more about the process.
“For me, it’s all about the performance and not too much about the end result. Yes, I think the end result is great if you can work yourself through that process but I still think the biggest win is – have I grown as a hockey player, am I better a hockey player at the end of the tournament than when I started?”
Wright agreed that with six marquee players included in each of the six competing teams, the opposition is a lot stronger than last year, which is good news for national selectors.
“I’m hoping for tough games that are fought right until the end, but of course that will make it harder to defend the title and I think you’re going to see results swing from side to side as well.
“It will make it an interesting tournament and that’s what we want. From a spectator point of view, that’s great and from a player point of view as well, because they have to approach every game like it’s a final. That’s really where we want to peg this because that creates better hockey performances and better hockey players to select from, because when you get to big things like World Cups and Commonwealth Games, every game is a final. You want big characters in those games and you want those players who are never going to lie down and give up.”