2016: Year for CAPS, U21 hockey team to remember

HARARE - The year 2016 will go do down as a one to remember for the junior ladies national Under-21 hockey team as well as newly crowned Castle Lager Premiership champions CAPS United.

Both sides endured a 11-year wait to accomplish their recent triumphs after last tasting glory in 2005.

The U21 ladies hockey side broke the ice nine months ago when they stunned hosts Namibia 2-1 during the African regional qualifiers semis to book a place at the 2016 Hockey World Cup in Santiago Chile.

Ironically their last World Cup appearance was in the same city and country back in 2005 and it was a huge achievement for the former ‘Golden Girl’ Trish Davies-coached side.

“For the girls, it was absolutely unbelievable (beating Namibia in the semi-finals) even I ran onto the field and that’s said something after I played so long ago. It was beautiful honestly, they (the girls) were so pleased it was such an achievement to make this World Cup,” Davies told this publication of the World Cup achievement.

Hockey Association of Zimbabwe secretary-general Sarah Bennett, a former U21 goalkeeper, who was between the posts when the team last participated at this level in 2005, chronicled the troubles the team went through owing to lack of finance.

“I think it was a very difficult task in the sense that our progression, our preparations could have been better and under the circumstances- financially to be able to qualify- we have done an amazing achievement,” Bennett said.

Team captain and centre back Stephanie Campbell, who scored the all-important goal to secure a World Cup berth, paid tribute to the spirit of togetherness within the girls.

“...the team together had such a heart which made it so amazing to lead. The fact that we qualified showed how we didn’t once give up and we fought to the end- it’s so amazing to have been able to lead such a lovely group of girls,” Campbell said.

The junior girls however, struggled to make an impression after they were pooled in a Pool A together with defending champions Netherlands, world number four United States of America and Korea.

Zimbabwe lost to USA 10-0 in their World Cup opener, went on to lose 6-0 to Korea before winding up their campaign with another heavy 13-0 defeat to Netherlands.

Meanwhile, CAPS United where crowned champions for the first time in 11 years and a lot of history was rewritten during the just ended season.

The long wait for league glory was made more painful by the fact their city rivals went on to win the title on five occasions during that period.

however, there was no denying Makepekepe in 2016 as the club defied an acute cash crisis that saw their players at times go on strike or boycott taking to the field.

The one who delivered the coveted crown was none other than their own son Lloyd Chitembwe, who was also a player when Makepekepe last won the league consecutively in 2004 and 2005.

Chitembwe was also the last coach to win against former champions Dynamos before he left the club and also achieved the same feat on his return.

Next year CAPS return to the African Safari and will represent the country in the African Champions League hoping to emulate neighbours Mamelodi Sundowns from South Africa, who are the reigning continental champions.

“Credit to the boys, they deserve this title. Despite all the challenges, they remained determined to do well on the pitch. They worked hard for this moment. Even the club leadership played their part in motivating the boys. It is not about me only but the whole team,” a jubilant Chitembwe said of his team’s crowning moment.

CAPS also embarked on a board restructuring exercise dissolving the whole body that delivered the championship and introducing new blood to boost the club’s efforts of reaching the highest level of professionalism.

Lewis Uriri, who sits on the CAPS board of directors, said the win by Sundowns meant the balance of power was shifting towards the Cosafa region.

“We are always in touch with Sundowns and must admit that we have learnt quite a lot from them over the past years and still to continue to do so. The fact that they won the continental crown means that the dominance of African football is now moving towards the Cosafa region,” Uriri said.

“We are competing in the African Champions League next year, not to make up numbers but with the mind set to emulate what our neighbours did recently, it can be done, as CAPS we have that firm belief and will give it our best shot when the games begin.”

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