The 2019 Belgotex Elite Club Challenge came, it saw, and it conquered in a superb and intense three days of high-quality hockey at Riverside Hockey Club. At the end of the tournament it was champagne for the women from Crusaders and the men from Riverside.
Crusaders, playing in their first Elite Club Challenge, set a record on the way to the title becoming the first team in the tournaments history to not concede a goal in the tournament. That resolute defence was built on the performances of Alex Kavanagh, Kara Botes and Erin Hunter playing ahead of the superb Mmatshepo Modipane in goal. Lisa Deetlefs was rightfully awarded the player of the tournament after inspiring her team consistently, while Sylvia van Jaarsveldt winning top goalscorer meant the Johannesburg team cleaned up during the awards.
National skipper Erin Hunter was glowing in her appreciation of the Belgotex Elite Club Challenge. “It really was great to be here and to play the top clubs in South Africa. It’s a massive bonus to have won it and we are really chuffed with that. Thanks to all the sponsors! We can’t wait to be back next year!”
Beaulieu were the other debutants to feature at this year’s tournament and did not disappoint. They play a lot of flair and have two hugely exciting prospects in Jesse Salo and Marvin Simons, while Julian Hykes proved once again how deadly he can be in front of goal. Although they finished fourth they will look back at their defeats against Wanderers and Riverside and know that they were merely minutes away from causing some massive upsets.
Alistair Fredericks, the Beaulieu Head Coach and former Olympian for South Africa, was full of praise for the tournament. “The Belgotex Elite Club Challenge is right up there in quality in terms of comraderies’, spirit and competitiveness. We are incredibly grateful to the sponsors and the organisers for having us here and we look forward to coming back in 2019 to try and win the trophy!”
Mark Hopkins proved to many watching why he was given the nod as South African Head Coach about 18 months ago as the Riverside tactics were spot on throughout. Their come from behind victory against Beaulieu was as superb as their defensive masterclass in the “final” against Wanderers. And if you were there you will know what I am talking about when I say Taylor Kelly-Stack should have been in England for the Cricket World Cup.
Keagan Robinson, a South African Indoor player, once again put his hand up to be considered for the outdoor programme with a well-deserved player of tournament performance that was a massive part of his teams run to the final. I also felt that Miguel da Graca, for Wanderers, consistently shows you why there are calls for him to have earned more than his 50-odd caps for the country.
Wayne Phillips, the tournament director, shared his thoughts: “With having introduced the qualifiers this year, the event has taken another massive step up. It’s totally inclusive and competitive as all non-tertiary clubs can compete. The 2019 Belgotex Elite Club Challenge was nothing short of sensational and we can’t wait to have everyone back again next year. Thank you to all our sponsors and partners in helping us run the best club tournament in the country!”
Overall the Belgotex Elite Club Challenge has used 2019 to enhance its delivery, to grow the brand and most importantly to make the players the centre of tournament. There is nothing like it in South African hockey, long may it continue to grow!
Written by: Jabu Barnard, Sports24Seven