A total of 13 SPAR Madibaz Netball Club players will be at the forefront of the Eastern Cape’s mission to make a statement in the Telkom Netball League that gets underway on Wednesday.
The national competition will see the cream of South Africa’s provincial players in action, with the first block of matches in Durban from April 27 to May 2.
Thereafter the games will take place in Pretoria from May 20 to June 19.
The Eastern Cape will be represented by the closely matched Aloes and Comets teams, who will compete in the B division.
Madibaz’s Britney van der Merwe, who plays wing defence and goal defence, will co-captain the Comets while goalkeeper Jeanie Steyn will lead the Aloes. Lana Krige, who coaches the Nelson Mandela University side, is mentor-coach for both squads.
Madibaz Sport netball manager Melinda Goosen, who will manage the Aloes, said promotion to the A division was a priority.
“The Aloes have won the B division for the past two years and the Comets finished sixth last year, so it is definitely time for one of them to move up,” she said.
“This will not be easy, but we do have the talent in the Eastern Cape.
“It would really show the strength of netball in the province if we can have the Comets and Aloes in the B division final.”
Goosen said the league would be contested on a double round-robin format, with the top teams qualifying for the semis.
The champions in the lower division will meet the bottom-placed A division side in a promotion-relegation match for a spot in the league’s top tier in 2023.
Steyn, a stalwart of the competition since 2014 when it was known as the Brutal Fruit league, is making a comeback after a hand injury curtailed her 2021 season.
“It will be my fifth year playing for the Aloes and I am excited about this opportunity for our players,” she said.
“Having this chance to compete means that we, as individuals, are growing and grooming our talents, which contributes to strengthening the game in South Africa.
“We want to compete with countries like New Zeeland, England and Australia and this league is paving the way to make that possible.”
She said the experience of the Aloes players who had competed in the Telkom Netball League before would be crucial.
“We have strong, experienced players who know what to expect,” said Steyn.
“This will be beneficial as it will be important to stay calm and collected when it is needed and to be able to hustle in tough situations.
“My message to the players is to embrace every moment. We have nothing to lose, so we might as well go out there and enjoy it.”
Van der Merwe, a member of the the B division-winning team last year, did not shy away from her team’s objective.
“I think every team has one big goal and that is to win. I won’t downplay that because that’s what we work so hard towards.
“But we also want to take each game as a learning opportunity, play as a unified outfit and make sure we always strive to do our best,” she said.
“It will be important to stay calm under pressure but, if we can play with a unified front and give our all on the court, I’ll consider it a success.”
Van der Merwe expressed her appreciation at the opportunity provided by the national body.
“I just need to thank Netball SA for the opportunities they give us. Words can’t express our gratitude but hopefully our games can,” she said.
“The TNL gives us the platform to showcase our abilities and our passion and I personally love it that netball, a game I hold so dear to my heart, gets recognised publicly.
“It makes the players feel valued as ‘professional athletes’.”
The Madibaz players are:
Eastern Cape Aloes: Jeanie Steyn (goalkeeper/goal defence), Siyamthanda Dingiswayo (centre), Siphosetho Kilani (centre/wing attack), Noluthando Maliehe (wing defence/goalkeeper), Mitha Sinxo (goalkeeper/goal defence), Juanita van Tonder (goal defence/goalkeeper), Kaylin Coetzer (goal shooter), Mothira Mohammad (goal attack/wing attack), Mihlali Mgweba (wing attack/goal attack).
Eastern Cape Comets: Britney van der Merwe (wing defence/goal defence), Kelly du Toit (goalkeeper/goal defence), Hanniska van Vuuren (wing attack/centre), Bianca Blom (goal shooter/goal attack).