Mission accomplished was the first thought that crossed Lungile Mthembu’s mind the moment the final whistle blew, and the University of Pretoria (UP-Tuks) officially became the Varsity Netball champions for the first time on Monday.
There was a good reason for celebration. In the past five years, it was a case of UP-Tuks Netball not being able to finish what they started.
By beating Northwest Pukke 43-41 in the final played at the University of Pretoria’s Rembrandt Hall, UP-Tuks made local sports history. It is the first time that one university has managed to win six out of the 10 Varsity tournaments.
UP-Tuks were also victorious in football, athletics, rugby, women’s hockey. Assupol-Tuks Cricket lost in the Varsity-final against Pukke while UP-Tuks women’s mountain bike team finished second in the Varsity Mountain Bike Challenge and the men’s team third.
Pundits predicted that the final between UP-Tuks and Northwest Pukke in Rembrandt Hall was going to be a “Battle of the Titans”. The players did not disappoint. The outcome of the game was in the balance up until the final minutes.
When Ine-Mari Venter sunk UP-Tuks second last goal to give her team a one-minute goal advantage an excited crowd started to count down the final seconds. The clincher came when Venter scored again a few seconds later to ensure a fairytale finish for the home team.
Mthembu who played a brilliant game at wing-defence received the player of the match-award.
“Getting the award is something I will cherish, but tonight (last night) was never for us about individual performance. We as a team had a mission, and that was to win. We owed it to our captain, Shadine van der Merwe, as it was her last Varsity Tournament Game. We wanted to give her something she will remember.”
Mthembu described Van der Merwe as one of the best players and captains.
“Shadine leads by example on and off the court. There are no half-measures when she plays. She always gives a 100 percent. On the court, you know that she has got your back if you should make a mistake. There is no place in her vocabulary for giving up.”
Mthembu was equally full of praise for the role Jenny van Dyk (head coach) played in the team’s victory.
“As a coach, Jenny leaves absolutely nothing to chance. When it comes to analysing the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses, she is a class of her own. We knew what to do the moment we stepped onto the court. The only challenge that remained was to stick to our game-plan.”
UP-Tuks gave their fans quite a scare in the third quarter when they gave way an eight-point lead to trail by two goals with only 15 minutes to play left.
“Jenny was the one who calmed us down, telling us to forget what just happened on court and refocuss. Her final advice was to think the score was 0-0 and we had 15 minutes left to win the game.”
Van Dyk made South African African netball history becoming the first to coach teams to win the Brutal Fruit Series, the Senior Provincial Tournament and the Varsity Netball Tournaments in the same year.