THANDO CELE

The 2015 edition of the annual USSA Hockey tournament took place in Pietermaritzburg from 29 June to 3 July and saw UP Hockey’s finest finish first and fifth in the men’s and ladies’ sections, respectively. The Candy Stripes men won four games out of five one year after being promoted back to the A-section.

The men were up against a tricky round of fixtures in a pool that pinned them against the University of Stellenbosch (Maties), hosts the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) and Gauteng neighbour the University of Johannesburg (UJ). The UP men, however, went about their business in a professional yet ruthless manner, starting off the tournament with an exciting 5-3 win over their old archenemy Maties, followed by a convincing 6-0 victory over UKZN. Their only loss in the tournament came at the hands of UJ, in which an end-to-end and action packed match ended in a narrow 2-1 loss. The loss, however, did not impact the overall standings which saw UP top their pool and set up a semi-final clash against the University of the Free State. The semi-final was a very one-sided affair that saw the Candy Stripes come out 8-0 victors.

The final against Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) did not contain as much action as UP’s pool matches. UP played an attacking game against the ever-improving NMMU, also known as the Madibaz, and came out 3-0 winners to be crowned the 2015 USSA Champions. Overall, the UP men’s hockey team conceded just four goals and kept three clean sheets out of five, while scoring a total of 24 goals. UP capped off their campaign with striker Richard Pautz being named player of the tournament for his consistent display of skill and flair.

The Candy Stripes ladies experienced difficulties and indifference at this year’s tournament as injuries to key players before and during the competition ultimately was the largest drawback for the 2013 champions. The UP ladies started the tournament well with a comfortable 9-0 drubbing of Varsity College Durban North, announcing their intent for the tournament. Defeats at the hands of Maties and UJ, 3-1 and 4-0 respectively, left the Candy Stripes ladies playing for fifth position against NMMU. The ladies won their game 3-2 to end off what proved to be a disappointing tournament.

Both the UP ladies’ and men’s first teams will shift their focus onto the Northern Hockey League, with the league resuming this semester. The men will be looking to cap off a successful year so far by being crowned champions of Northern Gauteng again, while the ladies will be looking to redeem themselves and recapture their Varsity Cup form which saw them finish third earlier this year, and hopefully be the number one ladies hockey team in the province once again come October.

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