The 2023 hockey school season might’ve concluded at the end of August. However, the memories of excellence created by some still linger in the mind.
The season was, arguably, one of the most competitive, closely fought, and record-breaking hockey seasons the country has ever seen. Some schools managed to bolster their trophy cases, some players etched their names in their school’s history books, and some coaches created memories that would last a lifetime.
In the Free State, a team that rose to the occasion, dismantling almost every side it opposed, with trademark grit and determination, was Eunice High School. Their record was not unblemished, but the girls in green also faced one of the toughest schedules in the country.
The prestigious Bloemfontein school, renowned for its academic excellence, produced a season for the ages, winning four trophies and finishing the year ranked number one in South Africa.
During an incredibly jam-packed campaign, the Free State side played 55 matches, won 47 of them, lost only five, and drew three times.
In those 55 matches, Eunice was dominant, scoring freely while also maintaining a stout defence. They slotted 169 goals while conceding only 23.
The team, coached by the experienced Nika Coertzen, kicked off their marathon campaign with a clash against Voortrekker, winning that 2-0.
They then succumbed to a shock 1-2 defeat to St Stithians before going on an eight-match unbeaten run, thumping the likes of Hoërskool Noordheuwel, Sasolburg, Hoër Volkskool from Potchesfstroom, and St Mary’s at the St Mary’s Waverley hockey tournament.
In their twelfth match of the season, Coertzen’s side hit a stumbling block, losing 0-1 to Gqeberha’s Pearson High School in a very closely contested encounter.
Their other three defeats were to Bloemhof, Rhenish, and Collegiate.
Interestingly, Eunice also recorded wins over Pearson, Bloemhof, Rhenish and Collegiate.
For the majority of the season, Eunice flourished, tacking on victory after victory. Their sharp counterattacking abilities, coupled with great defence, ensured the side was a force to be reckoned with.
They participated in four festivals, namely the St Mary’s Festival, All Girls Festival, Fairtree Top 12 Schools, and the Free State Cup, and claimed the gold medal in three of them – only falling short in the All-Girls Festival, where they finished third. They then went on to win the Southern Free State League by defeating their long-time rivals, Oranje, who finished 2023 ranked number two in the country.
Looking back on a very busy but hugely rewarding season, head coach, Nika Coertzen told SuperSport Schools her team was satisfied with finishing first in the country. Beyond the statistics, though, what made 2023 so special was the memories the players created during the year.
“This season, as every season [does], had its ups and downs,” she said.
“We made memories, embraced things when they went well, and learned from the times when things were challenging. We are grateful for the results and will cherish special moments for the rest of our lives.”
Despite an extremely taxing schedule, Eunice maintained a winning consistency throughout the season. When the team suffered a setback, it reset and fought back with a vengeance.
Through the course of those 55 games, Eunice strung together seven streaks where they won five or more matches in succession. That momentum is what propelled them to the number one ranking in South Africa.
Assessing the success of the 2023 side, Coertzen said the foundation for its dominant year was laid by last season’s outfit.
“Every year is different,” she explained. “Each team brings different strengths and weaknesses, but the important thing is to have a good team dynamic.
“We have been building every year, so this is a constant we focus on. We try and be better every day, and that contributes to the overall performance at the end of the day.
“A happy team is a good team. We are really a family,” she said.
The Bloemfontein side will enjoy the off-season with another busy campaign awaiting them in 2024.
They face significant changes, with seven players matriculating this year, so will attack the pre-season early and with vigour.
Coertzen said she is optimistic about the young players coming into the first team, and said she hopes for similar success in 2023.
“I am excited about the talent coming through,” she enthused. “It is always a privilege to take on the best schools in the country, and to come out on top is always a blessing.
“Our goal for next season is to maintain a top-class standard.”
Remember to submit your nominations for SuperSport Schools’ “The Class of ’23”. We invite you to be a part of this journey by nominating unforgettable moments, outstanding athletes, and inspiring coaches.
Your participation will help us recognise and showcase the true stars and stories of 2023. Submit your nominations on the following link – https://bit.ly/SSClassof2023.
Eunice’s results for the 2023 Hockey season:
|Durban Girls College||3-1||Win|
|Paarl Girls High||2-1||Win|
|Durban Girls College||2-1||Win|