The Impact of Maties Hockey on Western Province U21 and South African National Teams

The recent U21 Interprovincial Tournament (IPT) showcased not only the talent within Western Province (WP) hockey but also the prolific influence of Stellenbosch University’s hockey program. With insights from Bevin Bennett, the National U21 assistant coach, and Maties stars Caylin Maree and Daniel Neuhoff, they offer their perception and interpretation of the significance of these tournaments.

Bevin Bennett: Shaping Future Champions

Coach Bevin Bennett stepped back from coaching WP at the recent IPT to focus on national duties. Bennett emphasises the development of players, integrating mental, physical, technical, and tactical growth. “We are currently continuing with the development of the players, using lessons from the IPT to grow toward future events,” Bennett said. “This approach ensures that Maties players not only excel in university leagues but also stand out on the national stage.”

He continues by highlighting the contributions of several Maties players who have been pivotal at various levels. “Josh de Klerk, Ross Montgomery, Casey Keevy, Michael Cowen, Viwe Mbata, and Mpumi Mathebe all contributed positively to their teams, showcasing the depth of talent nurtured at Maties. Moreover, the exposure to higher competition levels at IPTs is invaluable. It allows the players to play a level up against the rest of the country’s best players,” Bennett adds, reinforcing the critical role of these tournaments in player development.”

Caylin Maree: Leading with Grit and Determination

Caylin Maree, captain of the WP A Women’s team, reflects on the journey to the IPT silver medal with pride. Her leadership and the team’s resilience were displayed as they navigated through tough matches, ultimately clinching a silver medal. “Leading a team of talented young ladies was incredible, and seeing their grit and determination to win the semi-final was inspiring,” she said.

Looking ahead to the Olympics, Maree is optimistic about the preparations. She also underscores the importance of mental resilience and adaptability in tournaments. “The Olympic squad has been away for 5 weeks, playing friendly matches against China and India,” she continued. “Playing a tournament requires a big mental shift, so getting players to stay mentally active and engaged is important. This mental toughness, cultivated through rigorous training and competitive play, is a hallmark of the Maties hockey ethos.”

Daniel Neuhoff: Building a Legacy of Excellence

For Daniel Neuhoff, the disappointment of not securing gold at the IPT is tempered by the privilege of representing WP. However, the experience and lessons learned are invaluable for future competitions and Neuhoff highlights the high standards maintained at Maties, irrespective of national team involvement.

“Considering the talent in the U21 age group in the Western Province, it was extremely disappointing not to walk away with a gold medal,” Neuhoff professed languishingly. “There is a lot of internal competition which ensures that those who are preparing for national selection are consistently competing at a high level. This internal competitiveness is essential for maintaining a pipeline of top-tier talent ready for national and international challenges.”

A standout moment for him was Alex Blow’s crucial equaliser in the group stage is a testament to the team’s fighting spirit. “Alex Blow’s equaliser against Northern Blues ensured that we qualified for the semi-final,” he added.

The Role of IPTs in Talent Development

Both Maree and Neuhoff agree on the significance of IPTs in developing hockey talent. Maree believes these tournaments offer exposure and growth opportunities. “Playing at a national tournament and with different players allows players to grow and adapt to different ways of playing,” she affirms. Neuhoff echoes this sentiment, highlighting the confidence-building aspect for younger players. “The IPT allows younger players to play with and against players of a similar age.”

Bennett, Maree, and Neuhoff’s insights paint a picture of a professional system where talent is nurtured through rigorous competition and comprehensive development programs. The Maties hockey program, with its emphasis on excellence and resilience, continues to be a vital contributor to the success of WP teams and the broader South African hockey landscape. As the Paris 2024 Olympics approach, the impact of these interprovincial tournaments on honing the skills of South African players cannot be overstated. The journey from Maties to the national stage is a testament to the enduring legacy of dedication, hard work, and strategic development.