Blantyre, Malawi – After a nail biting match against their netball nemesis Malawi, the SPAR Proteas regained their title of top team in Africa when they won 54-52 in the final of the African Netball Championships.
“It was war out there today” said head coach Elize Kotze in a post-match interview. “Once again, it was very physical, and playing amidst a huge Malawian crowd was very intimidating, but we did it.”
Starting off well in the first quarter, the SPAR Proteas were settled in their combinations, and proved to match the Malawians in their attack, resulting in a one goal lead after the end of the first quarter. Malawi fought back but the girls in green and gold maintained their lead, to end half time with a 25-20 lead.
However, things started to get ugly in the third quarter when Malawi gained momentum and had outscored South Africa by 36 goals to 33 after that quarter whistle. In true African netball style the Malawi Queens were not afraid to use force to get their way, and Captain Maryka Holtzhausen had to be side-lined after being hit in the face in the fourth quarter. South Africa was 7 goals down, and it was at this point that Kotze made a number of changes, putting Erin Burger on goal attack and Yolandi Stone on wing attack. Adele Niemand (who earned her 50th cap in Thursday’s match against Uganda) made a critical intercept in the last two minutes of regulation time, to bring the score down to a one goal difference. The SPAR Proteas then went on to equal the score two seconds before the final whistle at 44 all.
A team talk, and the motivation of winning for Tata Madiba gave the SPAR Proteas that extra shove, and after half time of extra time, South Africa led 48-46. Maryka had returned to court, and order had been restored, with Erin Burger replacing the Tiger Bongiwe Msomi, who was suffering from cramps, in centre. When the final whistle blew, the SPAR Proteas celebrated their 54-52 win, and the Malawian crowd dispersed in tears.
“I am extremely proud” said Kotze. “We have now lost the Malawi ghost, and are officially top in Africa and fifth in the world.”