Quintin van Jaarsveld
Port Shepstone-born hockey star Donna Small is set to achieve her lifelong dream after being selected for the South African Under-21 ladies Junior World Cup team.
The former Creston College head girl has formed part of the wider national Under-21 squad for the past year, getting to grips with the national structures at training and selection camps.
During this time, she’s not only refined her skills, but has also evolved her game.
A renowned striker with a knack of finding the back of the net, Small – one of KwaZulu-Natal Under-21s’ most prolific scorers and Creston’s leading goal scorer from 2011-2013 – has added play-making prowess to her proven scoring skills with a highly successful transition to right midfielder.
Her drive and desire to make her national debut grew stronger with each passing week over the past 12 months and peaked when she got an appetiser of top-flight hockey when she was invited to play in a practice game with the South African ladies team during their training camp in Durban last month, describing the hit-out as “a fantastic experience.”
Her passionate endeavour has not been lost on the selectors and has been rewarded with a place in the South African Under-21 side for the Women’s Junior World Cup, which will be contested in Santiago, Chile from 24 November to 4 December.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Small told eHowzit of her selection.
“To be selected for the final Junior World Cup team is one of the best moments of my hockey career. When I saw my name on the list, there were tears, excitement, relief, pride and of course, a whole lot of gratitude.”
The 21-year-old’s euphoria stems from a lifetime of dedication to the game – hours of sweat and sacrifice in pursuit of realising her ultimate goal.
“Ever since I was little, my dream was to wear green and gold and sing my national anthem – even if it was just once, so to be able to go to a world event like this is years of dreams coming true,” she said.
The third-year Bachelor of Arts Corporate Communication student says her time in the Varsity College Hockey set-up has been invaluable to her growth as an all-round player.
“Varsity College Hockey has taught me so much – through my coach, Mike Cullen, as well as the girls I play with.
“It’s an environment where, because all the players are students or young enough to be, we are friends off the field too, which helps enormously when we need to perform – it’s fun, challenging and competitive,” the Osaka ace said.
Small is one of just two KwaZulu-Natal players in the national squad along with fellow midfielder Tegen Fourie and takes great pride in representing the province and of her South Coast roots.
“I’m so proud of where I have come from – I can’t imagine playing for any other province. I love the ladies I play with and enjoy the ‘never give up’ attitude our province has.
“I owe a lot to the small town where I grew up – I learnt what hard work is. In Sheppie, I was and still am surrounded by support, which I’m always so grateful for – it makes playing that much more rewarding.”
She hopes her selection will inspire other South Coast-based players who harbour hopes of one day donning the green and gold.
She conceded South Coast players generally face more challenges than those from the likes of elite Durban and Pietermaritzburg schools but stressed this shouldn’t deter South Coasters, saying, “You can make an excuse, or you can make it happen.”
Small added she’s “absolutely loving” her midfield role and her versatility will stand the South African Under-21s in good stead when they start their Junior World Cup campaign against Australia on 24 November.
As a player who embraces the grind of training, Small insists she won’t rest on her laurels now that she’s booked her place on the plane to Chile and is relishing her long-anticipated debut.
“I’m hoping to play my first game against India at our upcoming camp [from 16-26 August in Pretoria]and I plan on making my debut the best game of my life.”
South African Under-21 ladies hockey team:
Amy Etherington NG
Antonet Louw FS
Christine Seggie WP
Dani Cairns WP
Donna Small KZN
Gretchin Davids WP
Kristen Paton SG
Marguerite van Wyk NG
Marlise van Tonder NG
Marizen Marais SG
Natalie Esteves NG
Nthabi Maine SG
Ongeziwe Mali EP
Sandisiwe Tabata EP
Shindre-Lee Simmons FS
Sisipho Magwaza SG
Tarryn Glasby WP
Tegan Fourie KZN
Alegra Dijkstra WP
Marissa Poolman NG