The 2023 hockey season is a thing of the past. It was a season where memories were created, records were broken, and some schools asserted dominance, while others underperformed in their respective provinces.
One team, though, proved itself to be the best in the country, not just based on its results, but also on its style of play and the large number of supremely talented players that came through its ranks. Their outstanding year warrants a review and an understanding of the culture of that all-conquering side.
The team in focus is South African College High School or, as it is more commonly known, SACS, from Cape Town.
The 1st XI concluded the season ranked first in the country with a mind-blowing record for the ages. They were, at times, unplayable. In the Mother City, they were undefeated, and they concluded their season with an astonishing 11-1 victory over Wynberg in their final match.
So, let’s take a look back at their campaign, and find out what made this crop of players stand out. More importantly, can SACS move on and rebuild ahead of the 2024 season?
Structures put in place
The hockey programme at SACS is one of the most advanced in the country, with the primary goal being to equip the players with the best resources to achieve at the highest level on the pitch.
International tours are part of the structures that have been put in place to expose them to the pressures of playing against international sides, in foreign conditions, as preparation for a long season in South Africa.
This year was no different for SACS, as they embarked on a tour to The Netherlands.
Coach Pierre le Roux‘s side played six matches during their time abroad, recording four wins, and playing to a stalemate on two occasions. The side also exhibited their sharp goal-scoring form, netting 27 goals, while conceding only 12.
“We started with a tour of Holland, where we played against some of the top Dutch U18 club teams,” Le Roux said in an exclusive interview with SuperSport Schools.
“That proved to be a great start to the season, and it also created the feeling in the squad that we wanted to play as many different teams as possible to grow our hockey.”
Not only did SACS remain unbeaten during their stint in The Netherlands, but their victories came against the likes of HC Athena (10-0), Den Bosch (3-1), Leiden (6-4), and Hattem (5-4), – all clubs that are held in high regard.
Just one defeat
Despite an excellent start to the season, SACS were shocked by Paul Roos at the Hibbert Shield Hockey Festival, hosted by Grey High in Gqeberha.
That loss came in the final, after SACS had cruised through the pool stages, quarterfinals, and semis.
They were made to pay for a number of lapses in concentration, which left the teams tied at 2-2 before Paul Roos netted in the dying seconds to leave the Cape Town school in silver medal position at a festival which they had comfortably won in 2022.
That, however, was the first and last defeat SACS would endure the entire season.
“Teams always start a season hoping they will be invincible,” said Le Roux.
“As a unit, we always said that a great season is one where you lose only two matches. Winning is a good feeling, but losing keeps you grounded and working to improve, and that’s why we embraced the defeat against Paul Roos.
“We lost after leading (2-1) with five minutes left in the match. It was a tough loss, but Paul Roos executed their match plan perfectly and caught us off-guard. The result spurred us on to do better in the return matches against them.”
That setback certainly spurred the side to avenge their loss when they met their old foes again during the derby season.
SACS were a much better outfit on the second occasion, playing an enterprising brand of hockey, led by captain Michael Cowen, and ran out impressive 3-1 winners.
From there on, the side kept their 100% winning streak intact, dismantling every opponent they faced along their way.
In the Cape, they made light work of the schools in the southern suburbs, putting 11 past Wynberg, 15 through Rondebosch Boys High, and netting three against Bishops without conceding a goal.
They won all nine derbies that they played against other Western Cape schools. To top off their season, a young side represented the school at the u18 Cape Town International Hockey Festival and convincingly breezed past every team there to win it.
It was a massive shift put in by the boys from SACS: they played 37 matches during the season, won 33 of them, drew three, and lost only one.
If there is something that the hockey programme at the school has proved, it is how an investment can be the catalyst, not only for results, but for the growth and betterment of players.
This season alone, SACS had over 20 players selected to represent Western Province in the u18 and u16 provincial weeks, which were held in Bloemfontein.
First team players’ Rogan Stirk, Michael Cowen, and Michael Royden-Turner were the big achievers, taking home the best goalkeeper, best defender, and best attacker awards at the SASHOC Hockey Week in Bloem, where they helped Western Province lift the title.
Stirk, who is phenomenal between the posts, was also selected for the SA u18 team before being summoned to represent the SA u21 side in the World Cup in Malaysia in December.
Besides Stirk, Cowen, and Royden-Turner, SACS also had Josh Opperman, Ozair Pillai, and Liam Haupt selected for the SA u18 team. The school’s players were at the core of Western Province’s triumph at the provincial week.
In the u16 side, Litha Kraai, who featured for the first team despite being underaged, was, undoubtedly, the stand-out player.
He captained the Western Province u16 team and was named in the SA u16 side. After the IPT, he was named the best player and best midfielder. Later, he was selected to represent South Africa in the Mirnawan Cup in Malaysia, which takes place from the 18th to the 26th of November.
Kraai was joined in the national u16 team by Aiden Hughes, Reece Theunis, and Joshua le Roux.
The juniors will be the key to SACS’s rebuilding project for the forthcoming season. The likes of Kraai, Hughes, and other Western Province representatives, such as Ethan October and Zac Redfern, will need to step up and take responsibility for upholding their school’s sterling hockey reputation.
“We are losing several players that matriculate at the end of this year,” Le Roux said.
“Saying that, we also have a talented bunch of players coming through from our u16 programme, who won the U16 Hibbert Shield this year and the U18 Cape Town International Festival.”
Determination, focus, and consistency played a massive role in the success of SACS in 2023. They’ll be aiming to maintain those standards in the new year.
SACS First team record in 2023:
Combined provincial selections:
|WP U18A||WP U18B||WP U16A||WP U16B|
|Rogan Stirk||Noah Venter||Ethan October||*Cameron Cordeiro|
|Michael Cowen ©||Wayne Mandabva||Jo le Roux ©|
|Ozair Pillai||Luke Salters||Litha Kraai|
|Josh Opperman||Coen Williams||Reece Theunis|
|Liam Haupt||Ray Bonnet ©||Aiden Hughes|
|Michael Royden-Turner||Mohlodi Maseko|
|Dean Carrick||Chavez Sanger|
Combined National Selection:
|SA U21A||SA U18A||SA U18B||SA U16A||SA U16A|
|Rogan Stirk||Rogan Stirk||Dean Carrick||Litha Kraai||*Mohlodi Maseko|
|Michael Cowen ©||*Joshua le Roux|
|Ozair Pillai||*Reece Theunis|
|Josh Opperman||*Aiden Hughes|
SACS 4-0 Parel Vallei
SACS 11-0 Grey High
SACS 9-1 Paarl Boys
SACS 3-0 Bishops
SACS 3-0 Rondebosch
SACS 6-2 Paarl Gim
SACS 3-0 Langa
SACS 3-1 Paul Roos
SACS 9-0 Wynberg
SACS 8-1 Paul Roos
SACS 8-1 DF Malan
SACS 3-0 Fairmont
SACS 16-0 Stellenberg
SACS 14-1 Curro Durbanville
SACS 15-0 Rondebosch
SACS 3-2 Bishops
SACS 11-1 Wynberg
SACS 10-0 Athena
SACS 1-1 Pinoke
SACS 2-2 Hurley
SACS 3-1 Den Bosch
SACS 6-4 Leiden
SACS 5-4 Hattem
SACS 5-0 DHS
SACS 3-3 Selborne College
SACS 10-0 Pearson
SACS 8-0 Grey High
SACS 3-0 Garsfontein
SACS 2-3 Paul Roos
Cape Town International Hockey Festival
SACS 4-1 Millfield
SACS 9-0 WP Invitational
SACS 6-1 Merchant Taylors
SACS 2-1 Fairmont
SACS 3-0 Windhoek Affies
SACS 4-2 Paarl Gim
SACS 8-1 Paul Roos
SACS 4-1 Paarl Boys