The Tuks ladies first team has been involved in the Varsity Cup Hockey tournament over the past few weeks. The ladies were unfortunately beaten 2-0 by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) at the semi-final stage and eventually finished third overall. Perdeby managed to catch up with Candy Stripes captain Kelly Kaulback to chat about her experience at the tournament and her vision for the season.
Despite your exit, the team played a strong game in the Varsity Cup tournament. Could you take us through the journey from the first game to your semi-final against UJ?
The journey actually started way before the first game. We started our conditioning, planning and gym programme in October last year. Since then, all everything has been about was “Varsity Cup, Varsity Cup, Varsity Cup” and going into the tournament we really couldn’t have been more prepared than we were. The management, our various coaches and everyone that we had on board facilitated the best possible preparations. By the time game one came, we were extremely excited and ready … to play because it was what we were working toward and [had] been ready for. The 4-3 win gave us such confidence but also an extreme wake-up call and taught us valuable lessons about the standard of the tournament. We aimed to improve game by game until we envisioned ourselves winning the tournament. It’s for this reason why losing in the semi-final was so heartbreaking because we had scored more goals than anyone prior to this loss and had lost just a single game.
This year’s squad consists of a relatively young group of players, so were you surprised about how well the tournament went for the team or was it expected from your side?
Interestingly enough, I had never before played in a team like this where everyone just wanted to play for each other and play for the stripes. We had a real “earn your stripes mentality”. From game one through to game eight, every single player put everything into each of the games, in terms of effort, and every player really did earn their stripes. So to answer your question properly, it wasn’t as much of a surprise that we played so well. There is always that thought at the back of one’s mind that “Okay, we have a young team that’s relatively inexperienced for a tournament like Varsity Cup,” but most of these youngsters had just come off their u/21 provincial tournament. [The provincial tournament] was a week before Varsity Cup, and [they] had won gold so that was certainly an extra boost to the confidence within the camp. Above all, with all the preparations that were in place and when we clicked, it didn’t even feel like our team was young. Everyone knew the roles, responsibilities and of course the goal and job at hand.
There are nine first-years in your squad this year. How has this changed the dynamics of the team chemistry?
Last year I was vice-captain of the team and the dynamics were really good. We clicked because we had been together for quite a while. This year the team chemistry has been really good, if not more positive than last year. It has really been amazing because we’ve had all this “fresh blood”, if I can say that. New and fresh ideas and “fresh legs” in terms of the pure excitement of wanting to play hockey, week-in, week-out. From day one of this season, it just took off and I can personally say that I don’t think the setup of the first team has ever been this unified and goal-orientated, with the same beliefs and just all for the same reasons: for the stripes and for each other. It’s a building block for the future. We’ve come third now but it’s definitely a winning and unified culture that the juniors can take on to further strengthen this bond we all have, especially when they’re the experienced heads of this team.
With all of this positive energy, how high are you aiming this year in terms of the league, USSA and future tournaments?
At the beginning of the season we actually sat down and wrote down our goals: win the premier league, top three finish in the Varsity Cup and USSA gold. We’ve come third in the Varsity Cup so there’s a tick in the box. We definitely wanted to strive for gold as we always try to do, but now [that we’re] looking forward, we’ll use this third place finish as another building block to further improve in the next edition of the Varsity Cup. For USSA, we’re going for gold. There’s really no other option. We’ve managed to be consistently good at USSA level and we definitely want to re-live the glory of our 2013 season where we won gold.