By Quintin van Jaarsveld
Port Shepstone-born hockey star Donna Small will don the green and gold after being selected for the South African Under-21 ladies team.
The former Creston College head girl was included in the 29-member national squad after playing a starring role for KwaZulu-Natal in the inter-provincial tournament (IPT) held in Bloemfontein recently.
Small, who was Creston’s standout player and leading goal scorer from 2011-2013, is one of five strikers and just three KwaZulu-Natal players in the national squad along with goalkeeper Claire Hill and midfielder Tegen Fourie.
“I was in complete shock when I heard the news, not because I thought I played badly or felt underprepared, simply because I saw the quality of hockey played during the week and knew that getting selected wouldn’t be easy,” Small told eHowzit.
“Now that it’s settled I couldn’t be happier.”
It’s not clear at this stage when she’ll make her debut for the South African Under-21s, however, it could come at the 2016 Junior World Cup.
“I’m very excited to represent my country, but before that happens there are camps and training that I have to go through.
“I’m excited to work hard and give it my best shot.”
“We knew that we had to play tactically and work hard,” she said of KwaZulu-Natal’s IPT campaign.
“Even though we had a young team this year, we were well prepared with high performance training starting early in December.
“I felt I played my best hockey when I forgot about my game and focused on the team.
“I also learned a lot about my game – where I did well and where I can improve; there’s always room for improvement.”
Small, who is studying at Varsity College in Durban North, said last year’s tournament was a valuable learning curve.
“I didn’t put too much pressure on myself last year due to my age.
“I thought about what I needed to work on – my receiving, speed and re-leading, and it paid off.”
The mature 20-year-old conceded coming from the South Coast made the journey to top-flight hockey – which also saw her represent South Africa at Under-16 and Under-18 level – more difficult in many ways but stressed it also shaped her into the player she is today.
“I take huge pride in where I come from,” she said.
“The South Coast has created a mindset that sportsmen and women need to go elsewhere to succeed.
“Other places may offer other opportunities, but that shouldn’t determine whether you reach your dreams.
“Coming from a small town has given me the mindset that there is always someone better than me.
“It’s motivated me to work even harder.”
Proud mother Karen shared a photo of a young Donna, saying, “From the passage at home to the big stage.
“We are speechless and super proud.”
“My advice to anyone that grows up on the South Coast is to forget the negativity, believe in yourself and your ability and work from there.
“If you don’t go after what you want you will never have it; if you don’t ask the question the answer will always be no and if you don’t step forward you will always be in the same place.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
She thanked those who have helped her throughout her hockey career.
“I really appreciate all the support from my family and friends as well as my coaches.
“Osaka, the best hockey brand and my sponsor, really spoilt me with kit and sticks [for the IPT] and their interest and encouragement definitely motivated me even more.
“I also owe a huge thank you to Varsity College for their constant efforts and contributions to my studies and sport.”