UP meet UJ in a top two battle of the universities

UNIVERSITY of Pretoria forward Wendy Shongwe’s on-field influence will be vital for her side in the varsity derby against UJ. | BackpagePix

UNIVERSITY of Pretoria forward Wendy Shongwe’s on-field influence will be vital for her side in the varsity derby against UJ. | BackpagePix

Published May 5, 2024


THE University of Pretoria (UP) Ladies’ team coach Maude Khumalo has kept her feet firmly on the ground despite their strides in the Hollywoodbets Super League.

UP will host varsity rivals, the University of Johannesburg (UJ), at Hatfield in a top two battle today (3pm), lying third on the log with 21 points, one behind the latter.

But while the team that’ll win the varsity’s bragging rights will close in on log leaders and serial winners Mamelodi Sundowns, Khumalo is not all about that.

Instead, she’s focused on ensuring that her troops compete – especially against the top teams – whenever they play.

“It’s not how you start, but how you finish … but gradually the players are starting to believe we can do this,” Khumalo told Independent Newspapers yesterday.

“Yes, we’ll have good teams like Sundowns and the University of Western Cape, but when we play them, we must be at the top level. We want to grow the league.”

With UJ one of the top teams in the league, Khumalo has done her homework on coach Nthabeleng Modiko’s team.

Khumalo knows some of UJ’s personnel very well, having coached them at national team level, so she has an idea of what game to expect.

“They’ve also started well. It’s young players with good energy. They are a good side as well,” the former Banyana Banyana defender said.

“I’ve coached some of the players at the U20 national team, so I know their strengths. It’s going to be a pound-for-pound tactical aspect of the game.”

With all the coaching experience Khumalo has garnered over the years, including Tuks, Basetsana, Bantwana, and TUT men’s team, you’d expect her to set her sights on the title.

However Khumalo knows that she’s not coaching an institution such as Sundowns – which is all about football week in and week out.

That’s why she’s realistic about their targets, especially sincethis is their second season in the Super League after being promoted from the Sasol League last year.

“I am not putting myself under pressure, or the players ‒ I just tell them to compete in each and every game and see how it goes,” Khumalo said.

“Remember my team’s dynamics are very different from the other teams. We have full-time varsity and high school students, and non-students.

“There’s going to be changes in terms of performances. Now we are going to have varsity and USSA games. A lot is going to happen within the team.

“I need to find the balance ‒ when it’s exam time. Last season, we ended sixth on the log. So, I am looking to finish in that top six area.”

Kudos to Khumalo for being realistic, but she’s already overachieved, with Wendy Shongwe representing Banyana when the team was still in the Sasol League.

The winger has grown in leaps and bounds since then – she was part of the Banyana team that finished in the World Cup round of 16 last year.

Khumalo remains grateful to have a player of Shongwe’s calibre at her disposal, but she wants to unearth more gems for the national team.

“We need to look at our strength firstly,” said Khumalo, before touching on their scouting model and requirements for the team.

“We need to bring in a player who’s going to fit in our style of play. I don’t want a player who’s like Wendy. Wendy is a different player.

“We need somebody who can stick to instructions and execute our plan the way we want. We make sure to get the right combination and synergy in the team.”

UP’s loss to UWC in the last game exposed an area they need to work on.

“Yes, we lost to UWC, but the game plan was there. The players played very well, and it was a marvellous game to watch,” Khumalo reflected.

“Open play, they couldn’t score against us. What we realised is that set pieces are something we must work on. And it goes with the experience of the goalkeepers.”

Meanwhile, UWC will be eager to join UP at the top of the pile by beating varsity rivals Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) Matsatsantsa in a simultaneous 3pm kick-off.

Today’s fixtures:

Lindelani Ladies v City Lads, 11.30am; Thunderbirds FC v Durban Ladies, 1pm; University of Fort Hare v Richmond United, 3pm; First Touch v Royal AM, 3pm; University of Western Cape v TUT Matsatsantsa, 3pm; University of Pretoria v University of Johannesburg, 3pm.

*Catch MIHLALI BALEKA on Umhlobo Wenene’s weekend sports show, Ezemidlalo with Ongeziwe Mjana, at least two Sundays a month chatting all things the Hollywoodbets Super League.