'Mission accomplished', was the first thought that crossed Lungile Mthembu's mind the moment the final whistle blew, and UP-Tuks officially became the 2017 Varsity Netball champions. It had been five years since UP-Tuks Netball last won the tournament, and now their perseverance had paid off.
By beating Pukke (North-West University) 43–41 in the final at the University of Pretoria's Rembrandt Hall, UP-Tuks made local sports history, as it marked the first time that one university had won six out of the ten Varsity Tournaments.
UP-Tuks was also victorious in football, athletics, rugby and women's hockey. Assupol-Tuks Cricket lost in Varsity final against Pukke, while the UP-Tuks women's mountain bike team finished second in the Varsity Mountain Bike Challenge, with the men's team coming third.
Pundits predicted that the final between UP-Tuks and Pukke in Rembrandt Hall would be a 'Battle of the Titans' and the players did not disappoint. The outcome of the game hung in the balance until the final minutes.
When Ine-Mari Venter sunk UP-Tuks' second-last goal to give her team a one-minute goal advantage, an excited crowd started to count down the final seconds. The clincher came when Venter scored again a few seconds later to ensure a fairy-tale finish for the home team.
Mthembu, who played a brilliant game at wing-defence, justly received the Player of the Match award.
'Getting the award is something I will cherish, but tonight was never about individual performance. As a team, we had a mission, and that was to win. We owe our victory to our captain, Shadine van der Merwe, as it was her last Varsity Tournament Game. We wanted to give her something she will remember.'
Mthembu describes Van der Merwe as a great player and captain.
'Shadine leads by example, both on and off the court. There are no half-measures when she plays. She always gives 100%. On the court, you know that she has got your back if you should make a mistake. She does not know the meaning of giving up.'
Mthembu was also full of praise for Jenny van Dyk (head coach) and the role she played in the team's victory.
'As a coach, Jenny leaves absolutely nothing to chance. When it comes to analysing the opposition's strengths and weaknesses, she is in a class of her own. We knew what to do the moment we stepped onto the court. The only challenge that remained was to stick to our game plan.'
UP-Tuks gave their fans quite a scare in the third quarter when they gave away an eight-point lead to trail by two goals with only 15 minutes left to play.
'Jenny was the one who calmed us down, telling us to forget what just happened on the court and refocus. Her final advice was to imagine the score was 0–0 and we had 15 minutes left to win the game,' said Mthembu.
Van Dyk made South African netball history by becoming the first person to coach teams to win the Brutal Fruit Series, the Senior Provincial Tournament and the Varsity Netball Tournaments in the same year.
Team photo (Photo credit: Stefan Stander)
FNB Player of the Match: Lungile Mthembu (UP-Tuks)
Samsung Best Shot Award: Jessica du Plessis (Pukke)
Pukke: Anja Esterhuizen, Jessica du Plessis, Marike Maree, Sigi Burger, Romé Dreyer, Chanté Bester (C), Mandy Hermanus, Simoné Rabie, Didi Keebine, Jomari Myburgh, Zandré Erasmus, Monique Reyneke
UP-Tuks: Jasmine Ziegelmeier (GK), Shadine van der Merwe (GD) – Captain, Lungile Mthembu (WD), Marlize de Bruin (C), Tshina Mdau (WA), Rumandi Potgieter (GA), Ine-Marie Venter (GS), Chanté Louw, Jeanette Vermeulen, Anique Grobler, Akosua Mensah, Sanele Buthelezi