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20 October 2018 | in NUSF News, Netball

Kovsies take Netball honours at South African varsity tournament

BLOMFONTEIN – South Africa’s University of the Free State became the most successful team in Varsity Sports netball tournament history following their narrow victory in this year’s final of the annual competition.


Varsity Sports, the ever-growing university league in South Africa comprising of various sporting codes, is into its sixth year of the nationwide Varsity Netball tournament, which pits the best eight netball-playing universities in the country against each other.


Following the culmination of the round robin phase, where each university had played each other once, Kovsies – as the University of the Free State is nicknames – topped the standings with six wins and just a single loss to their name, as they earned a semi-final play-off against Stellenbosch University who they beat 56-45 to progress to the final.


In the second semi-final, second-placed University of Pretoria – known as Tuks – who had lost just twice the entire campaign, hosted third-placed Nelson Mandela University, edging their opponents 55-46 to advance to their fourth final in the six years since the tournament began.


When the two sides met in the group stages in August, Kovsies emerged 68-43 winners, taking their head-to-head record to 4-3 in their favour, yet a much tighter context was expected in their year’s grand showdown, which happened to be a repeat of the 2014 final and the last time Kovseis lifted the trophy.


Four members of that 2014-winning team, Alicia Puren, Tanya Mostert, Maryke Coetzee and Rieze Straeuli, were all still present in this year’s final, with shooter and captain Puren in fine form at the start of the game in Bloemfontein as she powered her side into a 19-15 lead after the first quarter.


Hosts Kovsies were backed by a capacity home crowd, yet Tuks fed off that energy in an attempt to mount a comeback, clawing back two goals as they trailed 30-28 at half-time.


The third quarter was evenly matched, with Tuks drawing even closer and setting up a nervy last 15 minutes as they trailed 42-41 ahead of the final quarter of the game.


Despite the boisterous home crowd, visiting Tuks rallied to take a five-point lead with just seven minutes to play, yet the hosts mounted an exhilarating comeback of their own in the dying stages of the game, the crowd going berserk as they watched their home team edge their rivals 63-59 in the end to take the gold medal.

In so doing, Kovsies maintained their 100% record in Varsity Netball finals as they became the most successful team in the competition, adding to their victories in 2013 and 2014, while it was a third loss in four finals for Tuks. Interestingly, it was only the second time in six finals that the home team ended as champions, while this year’s final was the highest-scoring in the competition’s history.


Captain Puren was understandably delighted following the final, and revealed how the team’s unity despite the immense pressure eventually helped them over the line.


“It is such an honour, the fact that we could do it in front of our home crowd support,” she said after the game. “We waited very long for this.”


“It was important to help the players understand they have the talent and they don’t have to compare themselves with anyone else. We had to get them to believe in their abilities and for the team to be a unit.”


The prestigious Player of the Tournament award went to Khanyisa Chawane of Kovsies, meaning five of the last six recipients of this accolade have come from that university, while the Players’ Player of the Tournament prize went to Marlize de Bruin of Tuks.