The coming of age of Fort Hare’s decorated defender

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Fort Hare right-back Ngenelwa Zikhona has been a rock in defence all season long. 

 

Fort Hare football right-back Ngenelwa Zikhona will always remember the months leading up to her 21st.

She has been a constant force in UFH’s historic season that has seen them win the coastal stream of the Sasol Women’s League, triumph in the competition’s provincial playoff and make their long-anticipated Varsity Football debut.

Still several weeks short of the landmark birthday, she has arguably done more in tertiary football than most players would in an entire career.

The team’s 4-1 demolition of Executive Ladies in the Eastern Cape playoff in Komani on Saturday has been the icing on the cake for the human movement sciences honours student, who will come of age on September 10.

“It’s all down to our hard work, dedication and teamwork. I’m thrilled and proud of myself and my teammates,” she enthused.

Zikhona, who joined the Fort Hare setup last February, is a product of Engcobo Village Senior Secondary School. Back then, she would hardly have believed that she would one day play televised games and win tournaments.

The Alice university had a solid, if not brilliant, introduction to Varsity Football in Pretoria earlier this month. They drew with UKZN and Wits before being downed by UP-Tuks and TUT in their final two matches.

Zikhona said valuable lessons had been learnt in the process. These include developing different strategies, playing in front of TV audiences and handling pressure on the big stage.

The experience forced them to identify their strengths and weaknesses in order to fine-tune their approach, she explained, while having to mark top players like World Cup star Wendy Shongwe had been invaluable.

The defender found there were differences between Varsity Football and the Sasol league.

The tertiary competition was generally a faster game, while having more experienced footballers in the Sasol competition meant a range of styles and strategies was on display.

As to her own form, she felt that she had developed a lot in terms of skills like passing and tackling.

“I have become more refined and consistent. I also have a better understanding of positioning and of my role within different formations.”

Zikhona also believed that her on-field decision-making – such as choosing the right pass, when to press and when to hold back – had improved.

A good right-back should be able to make strong tackles, mark well and have the ability to read the game defensively, she said.

“They need to know when to push forward and when to hold their position.”

The squad are now on a two-week hiatus before their focus turns to the all-important Sasol league national playoffs, where spots in the prestigious Hollywoodbets Super League are up for grabs.

“This is our best moment. We need to enjoy every bit of it and to do that we need to play with focus and determination,” Zikhona said.

“This is what we have been dreaming about since the beginning of the season. Teams will be ready. We too will fight to the end.”