A year to remember for SA’s No?1 schoolboy team

2014-08-19 00:00

MARITZBURG College 1sts are the number one-ranked schoolboy hockey team in South Africa, and for coach Devon van der Merwe and the side it’s been a year to remember.

His first season as first team coach, first year teaching at College and first year as director of hockey, Van der Merwe’s task was made easier by inheriting a strong hockey culture that was instilled by legendary former 1st team coach Mike Bechet.

So how’s it been? “I think in your first year of any job you tend to learn a lot and it took a while to settle in,” says Van der Merwe, a long-time KZN Inland provincial player, wearer of South Africa’s green and gold at the 2005 Junior World Cup in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and one of the most impressive young coaching talents in the country.

“However, for me being a College old boy I understand the organisational culture, the way the school works and what the expectations are. There are many aspects of College hockey that are already quality and therefore not much change has been needed, which does make our efforts easier.”

Number one in SA, as measured by the impressive www.saschoolsports.co.za website, which has the only hockey ranking system in the country, the school has good reason to be very happy and excited about this achievement.

“It is a great example of hard work paying off,” says Van der Merwe. “It’s been a tough year for the players, they have stepped up to every demand I set and come out on top.”

The contribution of College’s five SA U18 players has been key, as well as the leadership of captain Tim Halle.

Van der Merwe said striker and SA U18 Interprovincial (IPT) Player of the Tournament Tevin Kok, trusted the systems the coach put in place and committed to excelling at every moment.

“His peers respect him and he has set an example with consistent performances. Tevin’s hunger for success has grown on the other lads.”

Defender of the SA U18 IPT Tyson Dlungwana’s ability to take charge and generate energy amongst the team is vital, says Van der Merwe. “Tyson does not settle for second best, has a really tough, hard training ethic and is an extremely good motivator.”

Dlungwana’s thirst for learning, improving and stepping up his standards also impresses his coach.

Ever-busy midfielder Paebo Lembethe’s ability to put his opposite number under pressure and win turn­over ball has been a huge asset for his team. “Attack-minded Paebo has a big engine, his game has grown in leaps and bounds and continues to do so.”

Those who have watched iron man centre back Byron van der Merwe play on College’s treasured Pape’s Astro this season would agree wholeheartedly with the coach’s contention that the judo exponent “has been a revelation for College this year”.

“Byron has been rock solid, hence his nickname ‘The Tank’, and also has the ability to drag flick at set-pieces. He committed to the process, got fit, lost weight, grew mentally and became a key asset in the 2014 first team.”

Defender/midfielder Onke Letuka is an unassuming youngster who has wonderful technical ability and tactical awareness, says Van der Merwe.

“He reads the game fantastically well. This player makes no excuses, just gets on with the job … Onke’s ability to win ball and make attacking runs with deceptive pace has been key for this team. A solid team man, Onke’s peers really enjoy his input.”

And last, but not least, are the leadership skills and midfield prowess of captain Tim Halle.

“Tim has the ability to break the line, beat two players and then complete his pass, which is an important quality for any midfielder to have,” says Van der Merwe. “He is realistic about his achievements and the ability of his team and peers. He leads through taking the initiative and responsibility for his actions. Well organised, Tim trains hard and takes charge in motivating his team when it is time to step up and work.”

The stars aside, every single first team player has played his part in the team’s success and it looks likely that Van der Merwe will again have quality to work with next year.

Maritzburg College 1st Hockey Team 2014:

Wesley Vezasie, Sanele Magoso (both goalkeepers); Callum Brown, Courtney Halle, Byron van der Merwe, Onke Letuka, Tyson Dlungwana (all defenders); Tim Halle (capt), Paebo Lembethe, Bryce Tullis, Landon Campbell, Gareth Herselman (all midfielders); Tevin Kok, Amkelwa Letuka, David Small, Michael Forrest (all strikers).

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