Jip Dicke scored 13 goals to top the goal scoring table at the FIH Women’s Junior World Cup in Potchefstroom. Close behind her was teammate Luna Fokke, who sent nine of her 11 goals into the net from penalty corners.
Mumtaz Khan, Daiana Pacheco, Ashley Sessa and Noor Omrani dazzled us with sublime stick skills and visionary passing.
Stine Kurz, Jean-Leigh du Toit, Rosa Fernig, Tete Salima and Valentina Raposo held the defensive units together.
Onthatile Zulu and Siti Mohd were unconventionally brilliant.
Mali Wichmann, Fabienne Gnehm and Devi Kharibam barely put a foot wrong.
The officials were repeatedly praised for their game management and for being, indeed, the third team out on the pitch.
The turf itself was subject to a number of storms and heavy rains but held up as a fantastic playing surface. The host nation put on a show that all the athletes and support staff will remember for ever.
As they gave their closing comments, representatives from all the teams were fulsome in their praise of the venue, the warm hospitality of the hosts and the beauty of the country.
In short, the FIH Women’s Junior World Cup was a huge success and will now serve as the launchpad for both athletes’ careers as well as South Africa’s place as a host for top level international events.
While so many players deserve a mention, three stood out above all else. It was no surprise that the Netherlands goal scoring machine Jip Dicke was the tournament’s top scorer. The only player with a chance of catching the sharp shooting forward was her own compatriot Luna Fokke, but a four goal haul against Canada and a five goal haul against Zimbabwe put the tall Dutch player out in front.
The player of the tournament was a close-run affair with a number of players in the frame. However, it was the quietly effective German defensive midfielder Stine Kurz who impressed the coaches at the stadium. Like some of the best players in the world, Kurz was the player pulling the strings in the German team and her effective running, passing and defending was just one of a number of reasons the German team came away with their first medal since 2005.
Speaking about the award, Stine said: 'I’m so happy to have been elected Best Player of the tournament, but of course very proud of the whole team. Without them, I would not have received this title. Therefore, hats off to my team! It’s been such a pleasure to play this World Cup.'
Goalkeeper of the tournament was the outstanding Mali Wichmann of Germany. The 21-year-old was composure personified as she marshalled her defence and helped steer Germany out of the pool stages into a potentially tricky quarter-final with Argentina. The team then put in a devastating performance that dashed England’s hopes in the semi-finals before they lost out to the awesome Dutch team in the final. There is little doubt that the 3-1 score line would have been very different were it not for Mali’s acrobatics in the German goal.
A week after she returned from South Africa, Mali reflected on the tournament and her team’s performance.
A week after the completion of the FIH Junior Women’s World Cup, what are your reflections of the event?
Mali Wichmann: ’It was a really great experience to play against other teams. It was the first time I have played against Argentina. We had such a great time there. Many of our family members came out to South Africa and supported us, so that was really nice. The whole organisation at the university was fantastic.’
What impact did playing in the FIH Pro League [against India] have upon your team’s performance at the Junior World Cup?
Mali Wichmann: ’It was great to go there with our team and to play the first team of India. For me, it was a great experience because we had the penalty shoot-out in both games. It was also great to play in a stadium such as the one in Bhubaneswar. It was also a long way away, so we had to get used to travelling, which prepared us for the long trip to South Africa.
Was there anything else you learnt about yourself and your team from the competition?
Mali Wichmann: ’At first, getting used to being with the whole team, the whole time, there really is not time that you are by yourself. I get very nervous before each game in South Africa so it was nice to have had the Pro League games before because I learnt how to deal with the nerves.’
What were your best moments of the tournament?
Mali Wichmann: ‘For me personally, I think the best moment was when I was voted Player of the Match in the quarter final against Argentina. The whole team put in such a good performance, but the fact that I was recognised for my performance in that match was very special.
What does the future hold? Are you looking at Paris 2024 and maybe even this year’s World Cup?
Mali Wichmann: I am such a young goalie and there are so many great goalies who are better than me at the moment. But I will continue with training and see what the coaches think. I am thinking about it, but I am thinking long-term.’
As a footnote to the story that made up this dazzling display of hockey, it is worth mentioning that India’s Mumtaz Khan, on the strength of her own and her team’s performance, was able to request that the regional Uttar Pradesh government provide her family with larger accommodation.
The top scorer within the India team explained that her parents and family were living in one room and subsisting on very low wages and she now wanted to use the power of her own sporting achievements to help her family live a better life.
‘For me, I will keep burning the midnight oil, because my next target is the Olympics and I want to make my city and country proud.’
From the skills and commitment on display at Potchefstroom, it is a certainty that a great many of the rising stars we witnessed in action at the Junior World Cup, will also be lighting up the stage in Paris in two years’ time.