WESTVILLE HIGH

Westville is in Director of Sport Waylon Murray’s heart

29 June 2020 – Sport has played a defining role in the life of Waylon Murray. As a schoolboy, it led him to Westville Boys’ High (WBHS), then on to a professional rugby career, during which he wore the green and gold of the Springboks, and then, more recently, it led him back to WBHS.

In his primary school days, he attended Berea West where he initially excelled at cricket and athletics. “I really enjoyed my time there and I had a lot of positive people steering me in the right direction, especially with regards to sport,” he said in a recent chat with KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan at WBHS.

His mother did not want Waylon playing contact sports, but an approach by the Principal Philippe Paillard led to her consenting to Waylon playing rugby in grade 5. He ran out at eighth-man but, he admitted, he was undersized.

“Even when I got into high school, I was tiny in comparison,” he reckoned. “I had a growth spurt in the middle of grade 9 and into grade 10. I was also a year younger than most of my classmates. I finished school at 17.”

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Waylon’s move to high school also coincided with a move to the backline due to his speed and footwork. “I enjoyed tackling, so I gravitated towards centre. It was close to the action. I started in the pack and then ran away from it when I got into high school,” he said with a laugh.

Although many of his classmates made the move to Westville, for a long time Waylon had no idea what lay in store for him regarding a secondary school destination. He explained: “At that time, I didn’t come from a privileged background. Philippe Paillard suggested, with the help of a few teachers, that I apply for a scholarship. I didn’t know where I was going to be. I was very fortunate that sport gave me an opportunity at Westville.”

As the son of a single mother, he would not have had an opportunity to attend Westville without that scholarship, Waylon said. “Nestor Pierides and Trevor Hall decided to take a chance on me and I came to the school.”

Initially, it took him a little time to adjust to Westville because he was, in his own words, “very introverted”, but he felt protected because of the support of Nestor and Trevor. “They were very supportive and they gave me a lot of opportunities to excel at school. My mom lent on the school a number of times when she couldn’t manage and every time they helped and were there for me.

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“Being involved in team sport, even though I was socially awkward to a degree (in grade eight, I was still trying to figure out who I was), I was very grateful that I played with many good leaders and good people. It was helpful that I could play sport, coming in as a small fish into a big pond.”

Westville has a well-earned reputation for academic excellence and that, fortunately, was not a difficult transition for Waylon. He explained: “I have always been a disciplined person…and I assumed the role of head of the household (at least in my head) because my mom was a single parent.

“I always carried that weight of expectation with me. Whatever I did when I was at school, I was incredibly disciplined, which helped me in my [rugby] career. Obviously you need talent, but I wasn’t the most talented rugby player to ever have a professional career, but I did know how to be a professional and work hard. That helped me jump start my career.”

Sport helped Waylon integrate into life at Westville and he excelled in many different sports, playing for the 1st football team for three years, the 1st cricket side for three years, the first rugby team for three-and-a-half years [before the introduction of Bok Smart, which nowadays would have prevented that happening]. He also shone in athletics: in hurdles, long jump and the triple jump.

In 2018, Waylon presented his Springbok blazer to Headmaster Trevor Hall. The blazer now resides in the WBHS Griffin Room. (Photo: https://www.facebook.com/westvilleboyshighschool/ Westville Boys’ High on Facebook)

He named Doc Cowie as being a big influence on his cricket. Waylon was an opening bowler and middle order batsman who in matric played with future Dolphins’ batsman Martin Bekker and future Dolphins’ all-rounder Robbie Frylinck, who would go on to play T20 cricket for South Africa.

“I used to bat a lot in the middle order with Robbie Frylinck. He’s obviously matured and got a lot better after school,” he smiled. “I remember a lot of innings where we batted together, and we also bowled together, of course.”

In his matric year, when he was also the Head of School, he found that he had lost some of his love for cricket because of the long hours it demanded of its players. He started to turn his focus towards rugby. “I thought that was maybe a sign that I needed to concentrate more on rugby, even though I continued to play first team cricket. In football, I was never amazing, but because I was good at most sports I could manage to some degree.”

He added: “I enjoyed playing different sports. Looking back on it now, I am very grateful that I knew every season Nestor would come to me and say what he needed me to do. It was quite refreshing; after a long rugby season you look forward to football, and after football you look forward to cricket.”

In matric, though, there was disappointment when he missed out on selection for the KZN Schools rugby team. “I had a good year, but I was a bit young at only 16-and-a-half,” Waylon said.

The Westville 1st XV of 2003 included Waylon Murray as captain and Njabulo “Jabz” Zulu, his centre partner, who today coaches the Westville 1st XV with Jeremy McLaren.

“The Sharks at that time expressed an interest in me and they wanted me to do post-matric. I came back and fortunately I made the Craven Week team. I wasn’t on the radar for SA Schools or anything like that. But I played all the Craven Week games. We had a really talented team.”

The KZN line-up included Alastair Hargreaves (DHS), who captained SA Schools, future England international Brad Barritt (Kearsney), who also made the SA Schools side, and Westville’s Chris Micklewood (who would make SA Schools the following year) and Njabulo Zulu, among others. Zulu, Waylon’s partner at centre for Westville, is now coach of the Westville 1st XV with Jeremy McLaren.

Throughout his high school career, Waylon had paired with Brad Barritt when turning out for Pinetown and Districts. Missing out on the Craven Week team in 2003 was a big blow, but reuniting the following year was an enjoyable experience, he said: “It was good to be back with him that year and to finally get what I felt was recognition for my talent at the time.”

He joined the Sharks Academy in his first year out of school, but was in for a nasty shock when he didn’t crack the nod for the College Rovers under-20 side. But that proved to be fortuitous.

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“Someone approached me at the Union and said there was an opportunity for me to go to Jaguars and play in the Premier Division, so I would jump a few levels. He felt I had been overlooked.”

It proved to be a fantastic move for Waylon. At Jaguars, he joined up with players, many of them from the Sharks Academy, who were part of the development programme.

“It became one of the best teams in the Division at that time,” he said. “JP Pietersen was in that side, Dusty Noble ended up playing for the Sharks, Howard Noble played Springboks Sevens, so we were a bunch of misfits in a sense and we landed at Jaguars. We just exploded. We were beating teams with a really young side. Most of us were under-20, under-21.”

Dick Muir was coach of the Sharks at that time and re-introduced club trials which, again, proved to be to Waylon’s benefit.

“Dick Muir had three rounds of trials. The Sharks players could watch. At the final trials, if you were chosen (I think there were 30 players), you then had a chance to have trials against the Sharks.

“Dusty, JP and I ended up making it all the way through. From not making College Rovers, to going to Jaguars, to going to Currie Cup trials and being chosen for the Currie Cup squad that first year was an incredible, fairy tale start for me.”

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It was a remarkable elevation in a very short time and it was mind-blowing for the young centre. “I was star-struck. I was a year out of school and suddenly playing with these professionals I looked up to,” Waylon said. “But I was very fortunate that the Sharks had a very experienced group of leaders at the time. A lot of youth was injected, so there was a really nice mix.

“John Smit, AJ Venter, Percy Mongomery, all these guys that were in that group did so much for the development of the young guys. It was a really nice culture. You weren’t afraid to fail. It was a good place to be. We went on to have a good season a year after.”

His debut for the Sharks came against Griquas at King’s Park. In a game he doesn’t remember too clearly, one incident stood out: “I remember chasing through a kick and thinking I was about to score a try and Henno Mentz came in and got there before me,” he said with a rueful grin. “It’s all these weird memories. The pace of the game meant there was no let-up. For me, the whole game was over in a flash.”

Waylon had started studies in marketing when he joined the Sharks Academy, but his rapid ascent to the senior team soon put them on hold. In retrospect, he said, that was a good thing as marketing was not something he was interested in at all.

A screenshot taken from a YouTube conversation, dated 25 April 2020, between Waylon Murray and Jabz Zulu during the Covid-19 lockdown (Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9HxFTxaywQ)

By 2007, Waylon was in the Springbok reckoning and when Jake White opted to rest his frontline players ahead of the Rugby World Cup, Waylon got to pull on the famous green and gold jersey during the Tri-Nations.

Then, when Jean de Villiers was injured in the first game of the World Cup, it appeared that he was in line for a call-up to the biggest tournament of them all. Jake White, though, had other plans and opted for Wayne Julies, a player he was more familiar with, but one who had played little rugby for the Bulls that season. It hurt, Waylon admitted.

Nonetheless, during that season he got to spend valuable time with a very experienced Springbok squad. “I absolutely enjoyed being a part of the set-up,” Waylon said. “That Springbok team was really special in terms of talent. They knew how to win and they were a different breed.

“I stayed with them for a couple of months, even in the games I wasn’t playing, as part of the tour party. That was enjoyable. I got to spend time with incredible players, some of the best to ever grace the game.”

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In 2007, Waylon also helped the Sharks top the Super Rugby table. They then downed the Blues 34-18 in the semi-finals at King’s Park to secure a home final against the Bulls. In a thrilling back-and-forth showdown, the Sharks were pipped 20-19 in the dying moments of the title-decider after a Bryan Habana try which had resulted after a disputed steal in the loose by Pedrie Wannenberg. It is the closest the Sharks have yet come to lifting the Super Rugby title.

As a young player making his mark, considerations of playing elsewhere were not at the forefront of his thinking but, after a very good run of over five years with the Sharks, Waylon found himself with a crucial decision to make when the Lions made an approach for his services.

“I think it is a crossroads for every professional rugby career,” he said. “You mature with the game and you learn to have honest introspection with yourself, including when it is the right time to go. I remember at the time the Sharks still wanted me to stay, but I had had a couple of injuries. I went to the Lions.

“It was a hard decision to leave, but I was probably going to get more opportunity with them. It was difficult leaving my safety net. As a competitive person, you want to prove people wrong and show you can come back from injury, even stronger. There was unfinished business. Going to the Lions felt like a fresh start.”

The transition was difficult in the beginning, and Waylon questioned himself, asking why he had made the move. But those misgivings disappeared. “When you push through an uncomfortable space and just stay and hang on, you get the reward,” he said. “That was the case with Joburg. I absolutely loved it. I loved playing for John Mitchell. It was nice to get the full backing of a coach.”

Mitchell has earned a reputation as a tough coach, but it was his straight-forward nature that appealed to Waylon and he took lessons from that approach. He explained: “John didn’t skirt around honest conversations and I enjoyed that. That’s how I have tried to maintain my relationships afterwards with coaches. You tell me exactly what you are thinking, rather than let me assume what it is. To have those hard confrontational talks, especially in pro sports, can be difficult. But I would much rather have that honest feedback.”

Towards the end of his time with the Lions, Waylon underwent a knee operation, which ultimately led to him leaving the union and signing with the then Southern Kings. Injuries, he said, are something every player has to deal with through the course of a season.

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“I think every rugby player, to a certain degree, never comes into a match fresh, even if they are injury-free. You are always carrying some sort of knock. It’s about trying to get through the season and staying as fresh as possible, which is, I suppose, the nature of the game. Injuries are tough [to deal with], especially when you get a bit of momentum. I was hurt at different times when I had built up momentum.”

Recalling the first time he had to deal with a serious injury as a professional player, he said it was challenging, but also a time of growth: “The first time around, it is quite a dark place to be. You can’t see the finish line and you are forced to focus day in and day out on what you are doing. It’s quite tough to find motivation. In that time, I learnt to find some inner resilience, in terms of being more professional and setting new goals, smaller goals, and managing them.

The Southern Kings’ experience was memorable, he said, because of the people of Port Elizabeth and how they wholeheartedly supported the team.

The next five years were somewhat nomadic as he turned out for the Bulls, the Sharks again, and the Kings after that. In 2016, he tied the knot, marrying Nicci Goodwin in a wedding that was shared on Top Billing. Then, in 2017, he moved abroad to join the French Fédérale 1 club Mâcon. It proved to be a pivotal decision in Waylon’s life.

Waylon’s wedding to Nicci in Durban was a stylish affair which was featured on Top Billing

Recalling that time, he said: “I went to France. My son Grayson was born there. It was an incredibly difficult time, but I loved France. I was there for 16 months, not very long. I should have gone earlier. I was with Mâcon, so I was close to Lyon. It was always a dream of mine to get overseas. I was not playing in the top division, but it was still a chance to travel.

“That season put a lot of things into perspective. I didn’t feel a pressure not to achieve – I was always professional and I worked hard, no matter where I went – but understanding where I was in my life, what I wanted next, and what I wanted for my family became clearer and the decision became a lot easier as the season went on. I could have milked another one or two seasons, but I thought it was time to have a little bit more stability.” The question became what form would that stability take?

“I had spoken to [Westville Headmaster] Trevor Hall throughout my entire career,” Waylon said. “I had reached out to him when I first got to France and asked how things were going at the school. We started to talk a little bit more and he told me that if I wanted to come back he would create an opportunity for me, which would give me a chance to give back to the boys through my experiences.

“At the time it wasn’t at the forefront of my thinking, but near the end of the season, after my son was born, I wanted to start afresh and try something different, and put my mark on a different project.” The move to Westville was agreed upon.

Waylon with Guy Coombe, who coached the 2003 Westville 1st XV that also featured Jabz Zulu, and senior sports officer Thomas Jackson. (Photo: https://www.facebook.com/westvilleboyshighschool/ Westville Boys’ High on Facebook) 

When he arrived at the school, Waylon was tasked with guiding, counselling and supporting high-performance players across all sports. But the position of Sports Director was soon to become available.

He explained: “When I came here, Sharmin Naidoo was the Director of Sport, but he was in the process of leaving. I had the opportunity to start something different with the Sports Department. Sharmin was here for 10 years and he did incredible work, but I wanted to do things in a different way.

“I wanted to educate and help the kids to understand that sport is great and we would like [some of them] to have professional careers, but what is more important is your contribution to the world and how well-rounded you are when you come out of the school. It is about managing expectations and trying to create good individuals that are going to return to our legacy when they leave school.

“If they make it as professional sportsman, so be it. For me, what keeps professional sports going are the kids that continue to play after school, including socially. That’s why I always encourage kids that if it is their passion, in rugby, for example, but you’re not making it professionally, just play because you love it. There is a shelf life to your sporting time and you won’t have those gifts forever.”

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It is important, too, that boys should enjoy the process of learning and growing together and not just focus on fixtures and results, he added. “I tell kids they always think about their big match on the weekend, but the actual room for growth is in the week.

“I recently spoke with Brad Mooar, who is an assistant coach with the Crusaders, and he was a really good mentor for me, because he was with the Kings before he went to the Crusaders, and he always used to tell me not to worry about the weekend, the week is where you have fun and grow. The matches are extra. As soon as you look too far ahead you stumble.”

Returning to Westville has been an enjoyable experience, Waylon said: “It is a very supportive environment and I think that’s always what makes Westville unique. It’s a really comfortable place where you feel you can be yourself.

“For me, it’s that mind-set of being of service to others, so I felt when I got here there were so many people that wanted to help. I am the type of leader that doesn’t want to have all the answers. I want to lead and grow with people. You learn from others and you get ideas from them.

“I am really grateful to be able to come into a place where I can be creative and try to do something special in a school that has changed, but which has maintained the foundations it was built upon.

“For me, it’s kind of a fairy tale [to return to Westville] because during my rugby career it was tough going contract to contract and moving to new places. Now, I have come to a place where I can finally breathe and relax, where I don’t have to worry about getting up and performing. It’s a different type of pressure. Being in this environment is very conducive for growth.”

Back in the Westville colours and loving his job as Director of Sport, Waylon Murray.

Casting an eye to the present day, 2020 looked poised to be a memorable year for Westville sport, especially the winter sports of rugby and hockey. The rugby team was expected to be one the school’s best teams yet, while the hockey side was coming off an undefeated 2019. But then Covid-19 flipped school sport and the world on its head.

Reflecting on what Westville and the school’s leading sportsmen have missed out on, Waylon said it would have been great to have outstanding teams, but the focus has switched to helping the boys deal with the disappointment of missing out on their season: “We’ve tried to be in constant conversation with the boys in terms of what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling and not concentrating on the loss, because that is what it feels like.

“Expectations were high and they wanted an unbeaten season, but it is sport. We hoped the season would turn out that way. We don’t know now and will never know [how it would have turned out]. We know who we are and we understand the boys are most important to us.”

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He expects them to deal with the setback well, he added, saying character and resilience define the Westville boy.

“We’ve got a great leadership group under Gavin Sweet, who does our leadership,” he added. “I work closely with Gavin and share a lot of ideas. We do a lot of videocasts, interviewing people, so we are really like-minded in that sense. We definitely support each other when we are dealing with an issue. That culture of collaboration is vital. We grow as people, so leadership and emotional intelligence are important.”

Concluding, he said: “It’s been incredible coming back to see what has happened at Westville, the successes the school has had, the good years and the bad years. There has definitely been a shift since I was in school, with Westville continuing to rise and excelling in sport and academics.

“We always say sport is a good outlet for the boys, but academics is their primary focus. They need to understand that.” And those words, coming from a former professional sportsman and the school’s Director of Sport, are sage and pleasing words indeed.

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From Westville to the world, leading tennis commentator Robbie Koenig

9 June 2020 – Born and raised in Westville, Robbie Koenig turned a love for tennis into a pro career and when that was over he took his connection with the sport to even greater heights by becoming one of the world’s leading tennis commentators. KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan chatted with him recently.

As a young sportsman at Berea West Senior Primary school, Robbie also showed talent in cricket and was good enough to represent Natal B as “a bit of an all-rounder, jack-of-all-trades, but master of none.” But tennis was the sport he excelled in and when he moved on to Westville Boys’ High, which his brother had also attended, he became part of a remarkable hotbed of talent.

“Westville was number one in the country,” Robbie recalled. “I’ll tell you the team that won the national schools championships. It was the top four players in the team, playing singles and doubles. It was me; Ellis Ferreira, a Grand Slam champion in doubles; Roger Mills, who went on to play College tennis in the states; and Kirk Haygarth, who went on to play on the Tour as well. Myles Wakefield might have been there already. Maybe it was six guys. Myles went on to a good career on the Tour too.

“Westville in those days and Natal, in particular, were unbelievable. I remember we played one of the Joburg schools in Joburg, and the winners got a trip overseas.

“We had such a rich history. Going back a number of years, there were people like Royce Deppe, Grant Adams, and Bruce Griffith.”

The Westville 1st tennis team of 1988 included three players who would go on to play the game professionally: Robbie Koenig, Myles Wakefield and Kirk Haygarth.

“School was just a happy place for me,” he said. “The environment at Westville was just so positive. You had people like [future Headmaster] Trevor Hall, who was the Deputy Head when I was there. He taught me some accounting. Again, an ultra-positive guy, so supportive of the tennis environment, because he was a former tennis player.

“Overall, my over-riding feeling was that it provided such a supportive framework. Whether you were excelling in academics or sport, you were given the same credit. Doing well at tennis, I was made to feel as good as the guy who was dux of the school. It is testimony to the teachers that were there, so many good people. They knew people skills.”

From an early age, Robbie was coached by John Yuill, who had ranked as high as 52nd in singles in the world during his career. “He was far and away the most instrumental influence in my career,” Robbie acknowledged.” John’s outstanding ability as an exponent of the serve and volley game would later help Robbie become a four-time Grand Slam semi-finalist, three times in mixed doubles and once in men’s doubles.

An incredibly talented squad of youngsters until the tutelage of Yuill also helped Robbie develop his game further. Then there was his uncle Guy (Gaetan) Koenig, who had represented South Africa in the Davis Cup. He served as an inspiration.

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In club tennis, he learnt lessons playing mixed doubles that would later prove invaluable. “I remember playing mixed league on the weekends at Westville Tennis Club when I was 15, 16 years old. Ladies of a certain age, around 45, didn’t move that well, so I had to learn how to cover 90 percent of the tennis court,” he said.

“You become unbelievably good at reading so much more. You learn how to help your partner and close down the gaps on the doubles court, things that a lot of other people maybe don’t learn. Playing much more structured league, like men’s doubles, you don’t have to worry about your other half of the court because that person has got it covered.

“I’ll tell you what, Barbie Walker made me do a lot of covering when I was playing at Westville. I probably have got to thank her for a couple of my mixed doubles semi-finals at the Grand Slams as a result of that.”

Anyone who has heard Robbie commentating on tennis will know of him as a tremendously enthusiastic and positive person. Those traits come from his dad, he explained: “My dad was one of the most outgoing, positive people to be around. I think I inherited a lot of that from him, a love for life and my enthusiasm. People like to be around me because of my positive energy. I definitely got that from him.”

Wimbledon 2017: Robbie Koenig with one of his former doubles’ partners, John-Laffnie de Jager; Wayne Ferreira, who was part of the same generation of young South African tennis talent; and David Friedland.

As a rising talent in a generation of top South African youngsters, Robbie received offers from Pepperdine University and the University of Miami, but a decision by Tennis South Africa to establish an Elite Squad to go along with the previously formed Super Squad, which included players like Wayne Ferreira and Marcos Ondruska, meant Robbie chose to forgo the university route.

The support from the national federation lasted 18 months and helped get him into the pro ranks. Seeing players like Ferreira and Ondruska (a player he regularly beat as a junior) perform well at Wimbledon and the French Open respectively, also provided inspiration that he could make it as a professional.

Reaching that level, though, took a lot of hard work because, Robbie admitted, he was not one of the most talented of the young South Africans. Kevin Ullyett, who became a three-time Grand Slam champion in doubles, described him as a never-say-die, fight-for-every point type of player on court, which Robbie appreciated.

“That’s awesome to hear that coming from a guy who had the career he had. But I needed to be the toughest fighter because I didn’t have the talent he had. I’ve always had a great work ethic and good discipline, but that was because I didn’t have the talent of guys like Ellis Ferreira and Ully, especially. He was unbelievably talented.”

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On the ATP Tour, Robbie enjoyed some success in singles, but quite early on in his career he had to deal with knee problems. As a smaller player – five-foot eight and no more than 70 kilograms at his heaviest – his body was not prepared for the demands of life as a pro. He had to endure two knee operations, which sidelined him for 13 months.

“I came back after that a lot smarter,” he said. “I used to do a lot more bike work, a lot more non-impact stuff. I wish I had known that when I was 16.

He also decided to focus on doubles which, with the benefit of hindsight, he wished he had done a little earlier in his career. John Yuill’s coaching and days spent playing mixed doubles at the Westville Tennis Club were about to pay off. The fact that a lot of South African tennis was played at altitude in Johannesburg was another plus, he added.

“Many of us grew up playing or competing at high altitude, which almost made it a necessity to be able to serve and volley. That became an important part of your game and you learnt that skill from a young age. Obviously that translates so well onto the doubles tour.”

Furthermore, in doubles one had the advantage of being able to share the load with a partner, whether in victory or defeat, and the switch proved to be an easy one.

The world-renowned tennis commentator with his former doubles’ partner and former South African Davis Cup captain John-Laffnie de Jager.

“When I teamed up with John-Laffnie (de Jager), I couldn’t believe how easily I made the transition to top level doubles. It came very quickly. The first big tournament we played together was the US Open. We qualified there and made the quarter-finals.

“That was my decision to give up on my singles, really, because in one week at the US Open I made more money than I had made in the previous eight months playing singles.”

Robbie went on to make four Grand Slam semi-finals in his career, one in men’s doubles and the other three in mixed doubles.

Early on, there was a tendency to look to partner with South Africans. Later on, it was about finding players whose games melded with his, which created opportunities to win, Robbie said.

“I always felt if I had a decent partner alongside me I could do some serious damage. For a while, I think in some of the partnerships I had I was the slightly better player, but I needed someone who was better than me. When I played with guys who were better than me, I found it easy to win.”

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Robbie achieved his biggest successes in mixed doubles, teaming up with the Belgian, Els Callens. He remembered teaming up with Annabel Ellwood, an Australian, and playing Els and her South African partner Chris Haggard at Wimbledon one year. They won, but he thought to himself that he and Els would make a good team.

“I bugged her for about a year or two [to play with me]. At this stage she must have been a top 20, if not top 10, player in women’s doubles. Eventually, she said ‘Okay, Robbie, let’s play’.

“It was easy to win with her. We beat some good teams. I remember beating Martina Navratilova and Leander Paes at the US Open. We made the semis there, the semis in Oz, the semis at Wimbledon in mixed. I wish she had stuck around a bit longer, or I had got hold of her a little earlier, because her game fitted perfectly with mine.”

One of his most memorable matches was the aforementioned quarterfinal with John-Laffnie de Jager at the US Open because the victory made a telling difference in his life.

“In the quarterfinals, we played Piet Norval and Neil Broad. They were top dogs at the time. The difference between losing in the quarters and losing in the semis was that the prize money had started to double by then.

“My wife was pregnant and I knew if we won this quarterfinal match and made it to the semis of the US Open we would have more than enough cash to put down a substantial deposit on my place in London. I remember being pretty nervous going into the match.

It was also played before a clash between Andre Agassi and Karol Kucera, which had to be completed, with their contest locked at two sets-all on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

“They always put a match before a match that needs to be completed,” Robbie explained. “We walk into the stadium, 8 000 people, a full house! They weren’t there to see us, they were there to see the end of the Agassi match, but everybody wanted to get there early and make sure they had a seat.

“We played a really good match in a hostile environment. We ended up winning it. It was a great match, we played unbelievably well and ran away with it in the end [winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-2].

“That was one of the coolest matches I ever played because I remember the relief when we were winning, thinking I’m going to buy that apartment in London now.

“It carried so much significance, with my wife being pregnant and now we were going to move in there. I could finally afford my own place, because we had been sharing houses in London with other people. I think from a significance point of view, making my first semi-finals at a major, it was big at the time. Obviously winning titles was big, but that’s the one that sticks in my mind a lot.”

Halfway through his final season on tour, he turned his focus to coaching. Mahesh Bhupathi, then ranked number one in doubles in the world, asked him to be his doubles’ coach and Wesley Moodie asked him to be his singles’ coach. “Basically, I had two people in my stable, so I could retire from tennis, knowing that I had a gig.”

The timing was good. Robbie had endured a frustrating time with the chopping and changing of his doubles’ partners. He had partnered with Thomas Johannson, the Australian Open doubles’ champion, but fate stepped in to bring about a change his plan when Johannson suffered an injury from a mishit ball, which struck him in an eye and put him out of tennis for half a year.

“That would have been my doubles partner, which left me without anybody to get into the events with. It’s amazing how fate turned out. I would have been relying on Thomas to get into tournaments and the next thing you know the guy is injured for the next six months. Who knows how the chain of events thereafter would have unfolded,” Robbie said.

Fate intervened again shortly after that when Robbie had a serendipitous meeting. “I was living in the UK. I’ve got an apartment just across the road from Wimbledon. It just happened that the guy two driveways up from me was a guy named Jason Goodall.

Robbie and Jason Goodall just before commentating on the Masters 1000 final in Toronto in 2014 between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Roger Federer.

“I am walking to Southfields Tube Station, Jason is walking back. We meet each other at the corner. We were pushing our prams and I was with my wife and kid. Jason and I hadn’t seen each other for a while. I knew him vaguely.

“He stops me and asks me ‘Hey Robbie, how is it going? Long time, no see. What are you doing here?’ He said he lived just up the road. I said me too. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was coaching Mahesh and Wesley. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was working for a company, ATP Media, and he was doing some commentary on the Masters 1000 events.

“I asked who he did it with and he said John Barrett (a Wimbledon commentator for almost three decades). He asked if it was something I would ever be interested in doing. I said not really. I said I had a good coaching gig. He said ‘If you ever want to get into it, or try it out, you’re going to be at these tournaments anyway, here’s my number. Get in touch if you want to give it a go.”

Later, at tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, Robbie realised why Jason had invited him to give commentary a go. “At that stage there were only three commentators. There were the two of them and there was this guy from the States and the workload was insane.” And John Barrett, then about 80 years of age, was about to retire.

In Indian Wells, after finishing training one day, Robbie went to see Jason. He helped with commentary for a set or two. “It was fun. I wasn’t looking for a job, but I was very natural. Two days later, the same thing happens. I go in for a set here or there. The same thing happens in Miami and the same thing happens in Hamburg, when that was a Masters 1000 tournament. I would do a couple of sets in a row, but didn’t think anything of it.”

Robbie showing Andrew Rueb, a former doubles’ partner and current coach of the Harvard men’s tennis team, the booth at the ATP World Tour finals in London in 2014.

But then, after Wimbledon, Wesley Moodie decided he no longer wanted to work with Robbie. “Suddenly, I am only getting 50 percent of my income, because I was only working with Mahesh. That’s when I realised how fickle a coach/player relationship could be. You don’t have any contracts. When a guy says he doesn’t want to work with you anymore, you’re kind of left in limbo. It was right after that happened that I thought hang on, this commentating gig might be a nice long-term security thing for me.”

In Cincinnati, Robbie did some more commentary work and was then approached by the Head of Production with an offer for a full time job the following year. After a little back and forth, terms were agreed and the stage was set for the next stage of his career. “The bonus was I going to get paid in pounds and they paid for all your expenses,” Robbie said.

“I started in 2007 in Indian Wells. Those were the early days of ATP Media, the world feed. The first couple of years were brutal, just three commentators working 10 hour days. You basically did two sets on, one set off, the whole day. The beauty about that is that I learnt all the skills very quickly. I learnt how to do colour commentary and I also learnt how to do the lead. If I had joined an international company, like ESPN, I would have only been doing the colour commentary.

“My biggest asset was that I had always had a very good mentality on how to see a tennis match. That was my greatest strength, the ability to analyse a tennis match. I think that came across well to the viewers from early on, and certainly to the guys in the production team. My natural analysis of the match was on point. I was reasonably articulate. I didn’t have a funny accent. I had a nice neutral accent, which was for a worldwide audience, and Jason and I bounced off of each other very well.”

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Since then, it has been a fulfilling journey for the Westville old boy. Last year, he joined Amazon Prime, which has taken over tennis in the United Kingdom from Sky Sports.

“You won’t hear me as much now in South Africa,” he said. “You’ll hear me at the majors, except the French I don’t do. I do the world feed for three of the majors. Now for the ATP 1000s and 500s, all of them I do for Amazon Prime in the UK. They’ve got the men’s and women’s rights now. Last year, they signed a four or five year deal for the ATP rights, and now they’ve got the women on board, so it is all on one platform.”

As a commentator, two matches have stood out as being very significant to Robbie personally: “The 2017 Australian Open final because, remember, Federer was 3-1 down in the fifth, he had just got broken. I put off my microphone and I looked at my co-commentators and I said ‘I can’t believe it, Nadal’s got him again.

“It looked like Rafa was going on to win it and what happens? Roger wins five straight games to win the match. It was incredible. The drama in that match was off the charts. Roger had just come back from injury and the atmosphere was mind-blowing. That was right up there, if you talk about big matches.

As a commentator, calling the 2017 Australian Open final between two of the all-time greats, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, was an incredible experience for Robbie Koenig as he witnessed the Swiss maestro capture his 18th Grand Slam title five years after his 17th. (Photo: YouTube)

“The other one, I did for radio at Wimbledon was when Andy Murray won Wimbledon for the first time. He beat Novak Djokovic in the final. It had special meaning for me.

“I first came across Andy when he was 15 and Chris Haggard and I played doubles against him at Nottingham, which was one of the warm-up tournaments before Wimbledon. We played this wildcard pair, and he was half of that team, and I could not believe how well this kid returned serve. Chris was a lefty and had a nasty lefty serve on grass. In the first five games, this kid was incredible. If I crossed, he went down my line. If I didn’t cross, he returned it on Chris’ shoelaces. We were staring at him, trying to intimidate him.

“Anyway, we ended up playing everything to his partner, Martin Lee, who we both knew well. He eventually crumbled. This 15-year-old kid, Andy Murray, was as steely as could be.

“After the match, he walked over to his mom and his mom put her arm around him. I was speaking to my family and I walked over to them. I said ‘this kid of yours, if you’re the mother, he’s fantastic, an unbelievable talent’. Of course, it was Judy [Murray]. She said ‘Thanks very much, Robbie’. I said ‘If he just keeps it up, this kid is going to be a proper talent and I hope he can go on to do good things because he’s a proper player.’ Andy was standing there.”

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Robbie kept following Andy Murray’s career and that included seeing him make a couple of Grand Slam finals before being beaten at the final hurdle each time.

“Eventually, he wins at Wimbledon. I remember – this is what made it so cool – I didn’t know for sure if I was going to be calling the final or not, because there is a big team of people. After he won his quarter-final match, I was lying in my bed one evening and I thought if I get to call the final what am I going to say if he wins? Because I often script. I have two scripts, one for each player in the finals, if they win. I want to do it justice.

“Something came to me that evening that Murray was going to win, and I had better have a good line when he wins because I had watched his journey.

“The words that I used were something to the effect that ‘There will be tears in Dunblane today, but they won’t be tears of sadness. They will be tears of joy because one of their own has won the greatest title our sport has to offer, and in doing so he has beaten the best player on the planet, Novak Djokovic’.

“That was my reference to the sadness that had gone down in Dunblane, because Andy was part of that shooting (16 children and one teacher shot dead and 15 others injured by Thomas Hamilton in March 1996).

“He was at that school. He wasn’t in the gym. He was in the next class to be in that gymnasium where that guy shot everybody. His mother had given lifts to the guy who had opened fire on the kids at the school. So, it was a subtle reference to that. It came to me in that moment.

Commentating on Andy Murray’s victory over Novak Djokovic in the 2013 Wimbledon final was an emotional experience for Robbie Koenig because of his connection with the British star. (Photo: YouTube)

“Andy won it, and that feeling that I had when he won makes me emotional even now when I think about it. I watched his whole journey take place, and I was part of it. I remember the Head of Production said to me that was one of the best closing lines for a match that he had ever heard. It was inspired in that one moment, lying in my bed at night. That’s why that sticks with me.”

A question he has often been asked is how he copes with being the father to three children and having to spend a lot of time far away from home. It turns out, it’s not an issue. In fact, if anything, it’s been a good thing.

“The big difference is that it is all my kids have ever known. It’s completely normal for Dad to come and go. My wife, Giselle, has been amazing.

“You still miss out on stuff, but I have often said I probably get to spend more time with my kids than a lot of parents who work a normal job, because when I am home I am free. I don’t have any work when I am here.

“I am at work 24 weeks a year. I always remind people I have 28 weeks’ holiday. How many people have 28 weeks’ holiday? That’s how you have got to think of it.”

He might spend a lot of time away from home, but Robbie Koenig gets to spend more time with his family than most fathers.

Travel, too, is not a chore. “There is nothing to complain about,” Robbie said. “Working for Amazon, you fly. What a company to work for, unbelievable. You’re flying business class everywhere.

“I’m watching the most golden generation of tennis and talking about it on a daily basis. I’ve got to visit some of the most beautiful cities in the world. If I am complaining about my job, I need a reality check. That’s the thing: I am so blessed to do what I do. I know very few people who absolutely love their job. I count my blessings every day. I get to do something and be involved in this generation of the Big Three.

“Now, my kids are a bit older. The family is starting to travel a bit more with me. We all went to Wimbledon last year, which was super-cool. We went down to Australia and New Zealand at the start of the year. They came to the ATP Cup for a few days before heading home.

“Hopefully I can keep it going for a few more years and my kids can get to see the world at the same time as me.”

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Westville swimming phenom Luca Holtzhausen dreams big

20 May 2020 – When Chad le Clos blazed his way to multiple swimming records in his time at Westville Boys’ High it was reasonable to expect that they would last many decades. Yet, only a decade later, incredibly, many of his records are falling to grade 10 learner Luca Holtzhausen, writes KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan.

A chat with Luca at the school, just before it closed due to Covid-19, suggested that there could be significantly more to come from the 16-year-old standout when, while discussing the demands of training, he admitted: “I will say that towards the end of last year I told myself that this is what I want to do and nothing else. Now that I have matured a bit, I have put my head down and said this is the time to really graft and really do well one day, maybe win at the Olympics.”

A young man who is bettering an Olympic champion’s records might have a long way to go to climb onto the top step of the Olympic podium, but he is on the right path.

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Luca attended Kloof Junior Primary and it was during that time that Candice Crafford, a former Olympic swimmer, saw him in action and recognised his potential. She approached Luca and his family and asked if he would like to try training with her.

“I eventually trained with her my whole junior primary career until grade three,” Luca said. “She then told me to move from her ‘Learn to Swim’ programme to a club in Pinetown [Seagulls], which is my current club now.

At Seagulls, he showed further improvement, and during that time he also made the move from Kloof Junior Primary to Westville Senior Primary. He trained under a few coaches at Seagulls as he climbed the ladder before landing with Delon Dannhauser. When Delon made a move to Malta at the end of 2018, Luca joined Olympic swimming coach Graham Hill.

“With Graham, as soon as I joined the club and got to know all the different coaches, he was always a person that I wanted to impress,” Luca said. “When I was training with Delon, Graham didn’t take me. But as soon as Graham arrived at training, I would push that little bit harder so that he would notice me. He has always driven me to be the best I can be. I feel like I can train really well if he is pushing me.”

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Recalling his rise through the ranks, Luca said: “The first squad I was in was not that competitive, but when I moved up to Delon he saw some talent and wanted me to push myself, and he really helped me. Then, along the way I met some good swimmers, like Chad le Clos and Myles Brown, while they were swimming in the bigger squads. I was just below them with a few of my peers and age group. Just seeing them swim really fast pushed me to want to get to where they are, and to be in the squad they were in. Now, eventually, I am at that level.”

During his primary school days, Luca’s talent was regularly on show at galas and it didn’t go unnoticed by high schools. He received a number of offers from those schools, but his choice was always going to be Westville, which his brother had attended before him.

“I was in grade seven when he was in matric, so when I got here he left. But I think from grade five, six, a few high schools offered me places, but my parents and I knew I was going to go to Westville, even if I wasn’t a swimmer. Having Westville as one of the top swimming schools in the country, made it a given to go to the school, and also because of my brother having been here. We did look at offers from other schools, but it just didn’t make sense not to go to Westville, and they offered a scholarship,” he said.

In every way, Westville was the logical choice, Luca added: “I think this school has always been good at sport, all sports, and the academic standard is very high, and it’s required of sportsmen, too. Westville does it really well, and all sports are equally embraced.”

Westville Boys’ High’s swimming team has been unbeaten for 13 years. (Photo: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

Swimming has opened his eyes to opportunities and possibilities, he said. When Luca was 13, he participated in international competition for the first time, travelling to Egypt. Last year, it was the Junior World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, which he attended at 15 years of age. It made a big impression on him.

“It was an amazing experience. Just to see the pools they have there. I remember swimming my first race. I knew it would be stressful, but not as stressful as it was. When I was getting ready for the race and was on the blocks, it blew my mind. You think it’s simple, but everything that happens is completely different. It’s important to travel at a young age, so you get used to that and the competition.”

Luca also tasted senior competition against some of the world’s best swimmers in the Mare Nostrum Series, in Monaco and Cannes. Unfortunately, while he was in Monaco, Princess Charlene, a former South African OIympic swimmer and big supporter of South African swimming was in New York, but Luca did get to visit the castle.

Being at Westville, a powerhouse of school swimming in South Africa, has helped stir his competitive spirit and challenge him to be improve, Luca said.

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“In grade eight, I remember breaking one of Chad le Clos’ records. I didn’t even know it existed, but then I broke it and people were congratulating me. I made a goal for myself that I have been breaking his records since. I challenged myself to get all the records, not only his, but all or most of the others.”

Being an all-round competitor, has helped him chase them down. “I’ve always done all the strokes,” he said, “which has made me a good individual medley [IM] swimmer, but now in the last two years I have really picked up on my freestyle swimming, so I have been doing pretty well in freestyle and IM. Just been concentrating on those, I guess. But, from time to time, it is always good to swim in other events that aren’t your main events.”

At present, his favourite distance is 200 metres. “I used to do everything, and it wasn’t too bad. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the 400s, but it gets tough sometimes. Sometimes it hurts. I still train it,” he said.

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So what does a typical day look like? Luca explained: “I have training at a quarter-past-five in the morning. I wake up at half-past-four. My dad will make me a Future Life. Luckily he still makes it for me. I’ll drink that and slowly get ready. I stay only 15 minutes away from the pool, so we’ll get there about five o’clock and stretch a bit. Then, we start at a quarter-past-five, and we finish at around a quarter-to-seven, so it’s about an-hour-and-a-half.

“After that, the school bus takes four or five of us to school. Then, training starts again at twenty-past-two, until about four, ten-past-four.

“I swim twice a day on Monday and Wednesday. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings I have gym. Every day of the week I am up at half-past-four, getting ready to do some sort of training. Every afternoon I train, except for Friday, when I have the afternoon off.”

“By Friday afternoon, my body is absolutely shattered, so I don’t have any guilt about resting.”

While swimming tends to focus on the individual, school competition and being part of a team helps bring the best out of him, Luca explained: “Even for me, I sometimes swim faster than I would in an individual race in the relay, just because you have this team around you. It is a little less serious because you are racing with people. But, at the same time, you can swim really hard and have a good time.”

Luca Holtzhausen, Westville Boys’ High Head of Aquatics Jarred Appelgryn, and swimming captain Ian Brijlal with the winner’s trophies from the Alan Burt Gala, the Nestor Pierides Inter-provincial gala, the Kwa-Zulu Natal High Schools Top 10 Gala and the Durban and Districts Gala. (Photo: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

Inevitably, the questions turned to the swimmers who inspire him and he mentioned three men: Michael Phelps, the man many regard at the greatest swimmer of all time; Adam Peattie, Olympic 100m breaststroke champion and world record holder; and Chad le Clos, who has blazed a trail for South African swimmers competing on the world stage.

“There is something about Adam Peaty. I follow him on Instagram and I just see a lot of hard work goes into what he does, and his results are crazy. Just seeing all the things he does motivates me, and shows me where one can get to one day.

“Chad, because he beat Michael Phelps in one of his prestige races [the 200m butterfly]. And he didn’t come out of one of the best facilities. But he beat him and changed his life.

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“My coach was talking to me about it the other day. I am lined up to do the same as Chad did, but in terms of Junior Worlds last year, World Short Course at the end of this year, next year is the Youth Olympics. All of these events, Chad did, and I can now follow exactly in his footsteps, and hopefully even do better.”

If they take place, Luca is hoping to make the South African team for the Fina Short Course World Swimming Championships, scheduled for 15 – 20 December in Abu Dhabi. It would his first selection for the South African senior team.

With two more years at Westville still ahead of him, it’s just a guess to think about the heights his swimming career is headed towards. But the trajectory is very promising. And the path has been laid out by a former Westville Boys’ High swimmer, a man whose records Luca has been dismantling…

Thoughts on a lost season: Westville hockey star Ethan Matkovich

8 May 2020 – The Covid-19 lockdown has been a shocking blow from the viewpoint of winter sports in schools, especially for learners in matric, set for one last hurrah, as the stars of their various teams, writes KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan. For Westville Boys’ High hockey captain, Ethan Matkovich, it’s meant missing out on an opportunity to follow up on a brilliant 2019 season, both individually and from the standpoint of the side.

Last year, Westville went undefeated, beating some of the top teams in the country, including Jeppe, whom many had considered to be number one before they met the KZN side, giving Westville a legitimate claim to the top spot.

Although he was in grade 11 at the time, Ethan was one of the key players in the Westville line-up, which was reflected in his selection for the KZN Coastal team and then the SA under-18 hockey squad.

Just before the lockdown began, that achievement was recognised when Ethan received his merit tie [a level above an honours’ award, given to boys who receive national honours] from Westville, along with Luke James (SA gymnastics) and Troy Botha (SA softball).

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There was uncertainty when schools closed early as to what it would mean for the winter sports’ season. Now, sadly, it has become clear: all schools’ hockey and rugby matches and inter-provincial tournaments have been cancelled.

“It is obviously something no one expected, or even thought this could ever happen. It is really tough,” Ethan said on Thursday.

“I think of all the build-up that we did, and all the training from last year that we haven’t been able to use. It’s a big shock for everybody. I was certainly expecting a lot of big things this year. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out and we’ve just got to try and find a way forward.”

Cleaning things up at the back, Westville hockey captain and centre half, Ethan Matkovich.

“It has been quite frustrating,” Director of Hockey, Cameron Mackay, said in a phone call. “I think it is more frustrating for the boys, especially for the matric boys who have gone through five years, always waiting for their matric year.

“Hopefully we can do something for the boys before the end of the year. It has been frustrating to be unable to do anything. I like to get onto the turf as much as possible, so it’s been tough.”

“There’s a couple of guys who have been in the system for a number of years. Keegan McCallum was injured last year, so he didn’t get to IPT, so this was his year to make up for that, but it’s tough because the guys have worked hard to get fit and get to where they are.”

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There were many fans of hockey who were looking forward to seeing Westville in action this season, and they were not just supporters of the school. After their outstanding exploits of 2019, many wanted to see what kind of follow-up Westville would produce.

Mackay explained the make-up of the 2020 team: “We lost quite a few matrics from last year, but we still had Ethan. Our back four and goalkeeper were all gone, except for Ethan, then we kept two of our three starting midfielders, and we still had half of the forwards. We lost quite a few guys, but the grade tens coming through are quite decent as well. We had a good side for this year.”

It is worth noting the strength in midfield and up front because if there is one shortcoming in South African hockey, generally speaking, it is finishing. Then, having a general at the back, controlling matters, like Ethan Matkovich, goes a long way to providing a reliable and effective defensive unit.

“We have always had a philosophy at Westville of managing our back four the best we possibly can,” Mackay said, “and creating that platform first and then going forward from there. It’s been a good system in the last few years.

Always calm and composed, and a leader, Ethan Matkovich.

“A guy like Ethan is a blessing. He is just so controlled at the back. He controls the tempo of the game and he has a really good head on his shoulders.

“He keeps it simple and does the simple stuff better than anyone else, which is quite a strange thing to see in schoolboy hockey. You look for that at under-21 level, sometimes not even then. He has the maturity of a man at the back, which is cool.”

For Ethan, it is about leadership. He’s been a captain throughout his school career, in every team he has played in, excepting when he made teams as a player a year younger than the other boys.

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Captaincy has always been a positive force in his sporting achievements, he said: I think it helps my game. It gives me more responsibility, which means I can’t lower my standards. I enjoy it.”

Like Westville’s approach to hockey, his leadership style is not flashy, it’s more of a blue-collar thing, getting down to work and setting the example. The word that keeps coming up is “simple”.

“We just have to keep things simple. The simple things are most often the things that win you games. Always work hard. You can’t beat hard work.

“We know, as Westville, we don’t have those flashy players and the ‘best players’, but we, as a team, will work harder than anyone else. We’re happy to play our way and do the hard work. If we win by one or we win by 10, we’re still winning the game.”

The Westville 1st XI of 2019 celebrate an undefeated season after a 3-1 victory over Kearsney College. Ethan Matkovich is on the left. (Photo: Highway Mail, https://highwaymail.co.za/)

That outlook is reflected in coach Cameron Mackay’s overall programme for Westville hockey. “We’ve set quite a good platform for ourselves where the kids are learning the same thing from grade eight,” he said.

“We might not always get the best kids [talent] in the province. We get a good type of kid, hard workers. We get good hockey players, too. But then you also have good cricketers who are good at hockey, and good soccer players who are good at hockey.”

“We have good depth, and we end up with kids who maybe didn’t come to Westville as hockey players, but they end up loving the sport.

“We set out a programme a few years ago – Sharmin Naidoo and I – where we put together a full programme that we wanted the boys to learn from under-14 to under-18, so all of our coaches spoke the same language. We kept it as simple as possible and we tried to make the philosophy that we will just do the basics better than anyone else, as opposed to trying to be really flamboyant and doing different things while allowing our coaches to do their own thing. I think that has been our biggest strength.”

In action in the famous black and white of the KwaZulu-Natal Coastal team.

It’s a no-frills approach, but it works very well. Ethan said: “Hard work is key. We hear from other players, at provincial tournaments, or at provincial training, they say they are a little intimidated to play us. Not because of the fancy stuff we do, but because we are always pressing and coming at them hard. I think that is shown in all aspects of the school. In academics, we generally have people in the top 10 percent of the province. In all sports, we generally have a group of boys performing at the top provincial level.”

As far as hockey is concerned, since Ethan has been at Westville Boys’ High (having attended Westville Pre-Primary, Westville Junior Primary, and Westville Senior Primary) the school has always been a top 10 team in South Africa. While he might not have the opportunity to continue that superb record this season with the school, there is at least some light on the hockey horizon for him.

Ethan is a member of the national under-18 squad and had been set to play for the side at the under-21 Inter-Provincial Tournament (IPT) this year. That opportunity has passed, but there is still a big event set for next year.

“We received an email the other day [from the South African Hockey Association], saying that for the under-18 squad they’re going to try and create contact time between the squad and the staff of those groups. They’ll try and do some video calls and mental training, speaking about a way forward.

“The Junior World Cup happens at the end of next year and hopefully a few of us will be able to go on that tour. They’re trying to be proactive, to connect with us, and making sure we’re okay. I assume they’re going to be doing this soon and showing us a way forward.”

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The Westville hockey team, meanwhile, has not been idle. “We are trying to stay positive as a group,” Ethan said. “We are doing some fitness challenges and posting them on our WhatsApp group. Obviously everyone is hurting from this.

“We do simple stuff, like seeing how many push-ups you can do in a certain amount of time, a few silly things like that to keep us going.”

Besides being an outstanding hockey player, Ethan is also a top cricketer and has received his provincial colours in the sport. He is, naturally, captain of Westville, a player with a good head on his shoulders, and a composed batsman who plays with enviable fluency.

Ethan Matkovich on his way to an unbeaten fifty, which saw Westville to a hard-fought victory over DHS in the first term. (Photo: Brad Morgan)

The first term, he admitted, was an up and down time for the 1st XI, a very talented side on paper which, too often, found different players firing at different times and seldom together. In some games the bowling was on song, in others it was the batting, but, as happens in cricket, form can be a fleeting thing and the margins between winning and losing can be extremely fine.

Ethan was at his unruffled best in a win over DHS, leading his team from 50 for 5, chasing 146 to win, to victory without the loss of another wicket on a pitch that had some turn and an outfield that was very heavy, a fact that was reflected in the DHS innings which produced only two fours.

“We had a really good side on paper, but we battled to win the key moments in games,” Ethan said. But, with only four matric boys in the line-up, Westville was always a competitive team, which suggests good things are on the horizon, with lessons learnt from a challenging season set to become valuable assets. And the example set by the skipper is one of the biggest among them.

One thing that one can be pretty sure about, Ethan Matkovich will continue to lead, in good times, in bad times, when challenges are fun, when challenges are daunting, even in this unprecedented time. With that approach, whether the hockey season or any semblance of one happens this year, it is surely not the last we will hear about his sporting exploits.

Luke James is aiming for gymnastics’ biggest stages

Luke James has gone and is going places in gymnastics. He’s one of three Westville Boys’ High learners who were recently awarded their Merit ties, for receiving South African colours in sport. He’s won in national and international competition and he hopes to make it to the Olympic Games, maybe this year in Tokyo or in 2024 in Paris.

Qualifying for this year’s Games has had a spanner thrown in the works with the complications caused by the coronavirus. The African Championships, which also serve as Olympic qualifiers, were supposed to have been held in Eldoraigne from 1 to 5 April.

It’s a temporary setback for Luke, who recently broke into the senior ranks with the national team as the only team member from KwaZulu-Natal.

“Trials are still going to happen, but they’re postponed,” he said in a recent chat with KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan at Westville Boys’ High. “In a worst case scenario, no spectators will be allowed and they’ll have separate days for the different apparatus to keep it under 100 people in attendance. An Olympic trial has to happen regardless of whether or not the African Championships happen.

“I was looking forward to competing in Joburg because of the home crowd. We would have had big support in a nice, big stadium. I hope it still happens.”

The Tokyo Olympics are a dream, he revealed, but they’re only a potential part of a longer-term plan: “Since this is my first year in the senior national team, my chances to go to the Olympics aren’t too high, although there is a chance. But I have definitely got my eye set on the 2024 Olympics. Also, on the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and then the World Championships and World Cups.”

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Full school uniform, standing back flip, no problem! (Photo: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

Luke’s gymnastics’ journey began a decade ago when, at the age of seven, he joined the Pinetown Gymnastics Club. He was a very active child and his parents saw the club as an ideal outlet for him to expend some of his seemingly boundless energy.

“I was a bouncy kid, playing a lot, and the Gymnastics Club was pretty close to home. We had some friends who were going, so I joined in and I loved it. I had a trampoline as a kid, so I was always jumping on it,” Luke recalled.

He participated in competitions from the start, but his first international competition, the Junior Commonwealth Games in Namibia in 2016, truly underlined his potential. He was in grade eight at the time and claimed a bronze medal on the floor.

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“That’s when I realised I should pursue the sport. It was exciting, something I wasn’t expecting,” Luke said. “It was crazy. It felt like I was on top of the world.

“It was great because we were also second in the team event. The reaction was really good, people were so happy. That’s when my name started coming up more in the gymnastics’ community.”

In 2018, Luke won a bronze medal on the floor at the African Championships and helped South Africa to second place in the team competition.

Luke James on the podium after finishing in third place on the floor in the African Junior Championships, held in Swakopmund, Namibia, in 2018. (Photo: South African Gymnastics Federation, http://www.sagf.co.za/)

In September 2019, he captured the South African Junior floor and vault gold medals in the National Championships. He was then selected to represent the country at the Olympic Hopes event in Prague, the Czech Republic. There, Luke performed superbly, making the final of both events and coming away with a gold medal in the vault.

“That was a big deal for me,” he admitted.

Gymnastics has presented Luke with the opportunity to travel, something that he loves doing. Japan, home to the reigning Olympic men’s team champions, and to his particular hero, Kōhei Uchimura, the winner of three gold and four silvers across two Olympics, has a deal with South Africa that takes the country’s athletes to the Land of the Rising Sun.

“We go out there every year and they pay for us to go and train with them,” Luke revealed. “I have done that three times now, usually for about 10 days. I went at the beginning of this year, and also in 2016 and 2017.

“I met the whole squad. We learnt a bit of Japanese and they know some English too. That’s also motivation, getting to travel the world for free, getting to see different places and meet new people.”

Being able to see how the top gymnasts in the world train has been an eye-opening experience, he added: “They are so advanced in what they do, and they have such a big support team around them. They have scientists working to figure out different things. It’s a crazy new world. We can learn from them and bring that knowledge back here, which is the whole point.”

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The demands of competing at an elite level of gymnastics are high and they’re especially challenging for a 17-year-old in matric, Luke said, as he detailed what a typical week looks like for him: “I finish school at 14:20 and go straight to the gym. I start at 15:00 and finish at 19:00. Four hours a day, Monday to Friday, and then on a Saturday it’s 09:00 to 13:00. Those are serious numbers. There’s a lot of sacrifice.

“I do homework when I can, whenever I can find a gap. The teachers are understanding. Usually when I get home, I will eat, do a bit of homework and go to sleep.

“During exams, I tone down the numbers in the gym. The teachers are quite demanding about what they expect in the class room.

“Sunday is my off day, so that is usually time for school work.” Weekends are also the time he gets to spend with his father on his other hobby, dirt bike riding.

Luke won gold on the vault at the Olympic Hopes event in Prague at the end of 2019. (Photo: South African Gymnastics Federation, https://www.sagf.co.za/)

Another challenge, and it is especially important for gymnasts, is diet. Thankfully for Luke, who confessed he has a sweet took, he has professional help at hand.

“Luckily I am on the EADP programme at Prime, which is a High Performance Institute in Durban,” he explained. “I have a dietician on my side who makes meal plans. They keep my body running all the time. I am very lucky to have them, to be honest.”

Being a smaller person is certainly something that helps in gymnastics, but that, too, can change.
“I am growing quite a lot,” Luke admitted, “so it is a challenge. As you grow taller, your geometry changes, but I am adapting to it.”

His plans for his gymnastics and his post-Westville Boys’ High days entail a move to the northern hemisphere to train in the UK with their Olympic coach, Paul Hall.

“I will compete for South Africa, but train in the UK,” Luke explained. “I am going to study through correspondence, doing film.”

Visual effects and editing have always been one of his interests, he said. Interestingly, he reckons they also helped him to persuade Hall to train him. “I sent an email to him to try and get a spot on his team. I made these videos of my training and it was kind of like the smoke and mirror effect to make everything look good.”

The thing with gymnastics’ competition, though, is there are no short cuts. There are no smoke and mirrors that will pass the scrutiny of the judges. It’s all about hard work, talent, and commitment and Luke James has demonstrated that he has those. Now he wants to explore just how far they can take him.

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Westville 1st XV a team to watch out for

Looking back over the past weekend’s 1st XV rugby results, there were some interesting scores: Kearsney’s 29-10 win over Clifton was expected, while Northwood drew their second game in succession, finishing 14-14 against Maritzburg College. Hilton’s 14-10 defeat of Glenwood, while a very big result for the Midlands’ boys, was not totally unexpected. What really stood out, though, was Westville’s 52-7 dismantling of DHS.

DHS has produced some very good rugby and some very good teams in the recent past, so to see them beaten by 45 points was surprising and quite shocking. KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan caught up with Westville’s coaches, Jeremy McLaren and Njabulo “Jubs” Zulu at the school on Tuesday, to find out more about the Westville 1st XV of 2020.

Saturday’s game was a late start to the season for the Griffins. They had been scheduled to kick things off the previous Saturday against Hilton College, but that game was called off due to concerns over the coronavirus, stemming from a positive result on the test of a Hilton local. Instead, Westville held some internal trials. Then, on Saturday, it was time for their first outing against DHS. Down 0-7 early on, the home side rallied to run up 52 unanswered points.

Rugby 2019: Westville vs Maritzburg College report

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Rugby 2019: Westville vs Maritzburg College, how the Westville coaches saw it

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Westville 1st XV coaches Njabulo “Jubs” Zulu and Jeremy McLaren.

“We were quite amazed by the fitness levels in our first game,” coach McLaren admitted. But that level of performance and the impressive victory, he revealed, were a number of years in the making.

“It’s a journey that we started two years back, when Jubs and I started here. A few things were not in place and we will never forget that our match against DHS here was 60-10 against us. We had about 19 injuries! We went through a process where we had to get things back in line.

“Last year, we had control of that game as well, but we let it slip. This year, we knew we had to get it right and it would all fall into place. But it is a special group.”

There has been talk that this year’s Westville 1st XV is a top unit but, McLaren added, “There is also so much work that has had to go into it. There was a lack of a lot of knowledge and certain skill levels [when we started with them].

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One big decision that the coaching team made has proved to be a masterstroke. They moved Mambo Mkhize from eighthman to centre and in 2019 he turned out for KZN Schools in the midfield.

Jubs explained that he had heard criticism from others that Mkhize was not assertive enough in his ball carrying. But those people, who didn’t know Mkhize as well as Zulu does, were not giving recognition to his other skills, like his soft hands and cover defence.

“He doesn’t want to assert himself, he wants to put other people into space,” Zulu explained.

Westville star Mambo Mkhize made the switch from eighthman to centre with devastating results for opposing teams. (Photo: Martin Ashworth)

When he and McLaren discussed moving Mkhize to centre, they took on advice from someone who had previously done something along those lines with great success. “We called Mzwakhe Nkosi, who is the KES coach. He did a similar thing with a player, Yanga Hlalu, who played SA Schools (2017).

“He moved him from flank to centre. I asked him what the things were that made him certain that Yanga would work as a centre and he said he’s got the skill set and the vision. So why not do it? We did it.”

“The critics that count now see Mambo asserting himself. We’re happy with his development,” Zulu said. There is even talk that Mkhize is one of the front-runners for selection for the SA Schools team.

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Successful sides require not only the leadership of their coaches, but leadership from within and that hasn’t been difficult to come by in this year’s line-up.

“We’ve got quite a lot of seniors in the group, especially in the backs,” Zulu said. “We are fortunate to have a lot of guys who were in grade 11 last year, so they would have learnt a lot. They drive a lot of what we do and they’re really excited to be in this position. They are really confident guys.”

The team environment (and it is encouraged) is hardly what one associates with a top rugby side. Zulu explained: “We’ve got quite a unique team. We are not the traditional team. If you saw our warm-up, there’s music and laughter, whereas a lot of teams that I have worked with are very serious and focus on needing to be psyched up.

“We’re completely the opposite. The guys are talking, there’s a vibe and laughter.

“I think we’re confident, but we’re being true to ourselves. A lot of the characters that we have in our team are very jovial, fun-loving guys.”

 

He recalled how when Westville played Michaelhouse in 2019 there was a very serious vibe about the side and that had the coaches worried ahead of the start of the match. It showed on the field as Michaelhouse outplayed Westville.

“We saw it coming because the energy was off that week. We know the kind of team and characters that we have, so we need to embrace it.”

The McLaren/Zulu coaching team also promotes a game that features flair. “Ever since Jubs and I connected as coaching partners, it was always about taking the risks,” McLaren admitted.

“We came up with a slogan of being wild at heart, because that is how we’ve been created. We want to take chances.

“I will never forget, last year we played Kearsney on our Old Boys’ Day and Carlo Del Fava, the ex-Italian international, was helping with our forwards. Our boys were inside our goal area and Jubs and I said ‘let’s go’ and Carlo looked at us and said ‘guys, you’re crazy’. To cut a long story short, we went and scored in the corner on the other side.

“For us, it’s a basic thing that you play what you see. We’ve been in trouble, with people that know the game questioning why we don’t kick. But that’s not our philosophy. We want them to have fun and we keep saying to them that the only mistake that they can make is the one that they don’t fix. Even international players make mistakes.”

Fitness is key for such an approach to work, but that, too, is not done simply with a traditional focus on running.

“[Fitness] has always got to do with a game that they play,” McLaren stated. “When Jubs does defence, it’s quite a lot of running, like a shuttle, forward and back. Our conditioning programme is not just big weights. It is all multi-functional stuff to enable us to play that type of game.

“The biggest thing is we try to make the boys think for themselves. We give them options to play and they choose.

“We definitely play a running brand of rugby. If you close us down, we’ll use a kicking game. If you don’t close us down, we will run at you.”

Having a promising season nipped in the bud, McLaren admits, has been a real downer. “We’re depressed, but you can’t do anything about it.

“This is one of the better teams, if not the best team, that Westville would have produced. I am not saying that a future team won’t be at this level, but this is a special group.”

He then ran off the very challenging schedule that Westville was supposed to have played: “We would have played Framesby now, which is a good side. Queen’s College is different. We’re going to try and rescheduled Affies. At the Kearsney Easter Festival, we had EG Jansen, HTS Drostdy and HTS Middelburg.” That’s a list that reveals a fear of no one.

Joy and celebration for Westville in their 52-7 win over DHS. (Photo: https://www.facebook.com/westvilleboyshighschool/)

“We had already done our homework and we worked out that within that space of time, those physical games, who would go where and Jubs has a good idea of who would be our back-up flyhalf, because that was a big problem for us, if we lost our 10. But now our other one is just as good.

Ruefully, he concluded: “It feels like you’re in this movie and you want it to end now.”

Having served up a tasty and entertaining teaser with their superb display against DHS, here’s hoping we get to see the Westville 1st XV of 2020 have more opportunities to show off their skills.

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All-round excellence: SA softball star Troy Botha

Multi-talented all-rounder Troy Botha is the kind of learner that Westville Boys’ High School strives to produce. He’s a good academic student, a strong contributor in a number of sports, having earned provincial colours for cricket and most recently South African under-18 colours for softball, and he also sets a good example as a school prefect.

KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan sat down with Troy at the school this week to discuss his achievements, going back to the start of his sporting days, and, of course, asked him about the 2020 Under-18 Softball World Cup, which was played in New Zealand from 22 February to 1 March.

Proudly wearing the green and gold national colours of South Africa, softball star Troy Botha.

He’s a left-hander in everything he does which, Troy believes, gives him an advantage. It also has limited some of his options in softball, but he plays either first base or outfield, while batting fifth or sixth in the order.

The foundation for his success in the sport was laid in primary school, but it didn’t begin with softball. Rather, it started with baseball, which he played at Atholl Heights, and it was only in the last two years of his primary schooling that he started to play softball. It didn’t take long for him to make his mark.

He first earned his KwaZulu-Natal colours in grade six, at the age of 12, and went on to represent KZN at under-13 level for two years. Then he had to decide on a high school.

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The move to Westville Boys’ High for his secondary education was a simple decision. Not only was his brother, Kyle, at the school, but he was also approached by the school’s Marketing Manager who had seen Troy in action in a rugby match against Westville. From there matters moved quickly.

Recalling the rapid pace at which things happened, he said: “Mr Du Plessis liked the way I played and the attitude that I had. The match was on a Wednesday night, he called me on the Thursday and booked an interview for the following Monday. The intent that he showed and how keen he was for me to come to Westville and have a look around the school really did help.” Oh, and Westville also played softball.

Judging by the enthusiasm with which Troy now talks about the school, it was the right decision. Westville was a perfect fit.

At the school, he was introduced to English teacher and 1st team softball coach, Warren Hitchings. “He’s been really good for me,” said Troy. “He’s helped me with my sport and my softball especially. He’s been with me through quite a lot.”

In grade eight, Troy was selected for the KZN under-15 team, but grade 9 presented him with a difficult choice after he was named in both the KZN softball and cricket sides. Explaining how he came to his decision, Troy said: “It was my first year making the cricket team, so I chose the cricket over the softball.

At the end of 2019, the KwaZulu-Natal under-17 team, under coach and Westville teacher Warren Hitchings (third from right) won silver at the National Summer Games. The team included six Westville boys: Troy Botha, Craig Reid, Kian Garnham, Joel Wadsworth, Ethan Shirley and Taine Scott. (Photo: https://www.facebook.com/westvilleboyshighschool/)

“Cricket started pretty much since I could walk,” he recalled. “My first word was ‘ball’. That kind of said I was going to play a lot of sport. ”

It was at the end of 2018 that it became clear that he might be destined for bigger things in softball. After the National Summer Games in Kempton Park, he was chosen for an All Star Team. That was followed by a national training camp and after that he was named in a side to go to Nigeria for a World Cup qualifier against the West African nation. Two other countries, Botswana and Mali, had pulled out, so it was a two-horse race for a place at the Softball World Cup.

Nigeria was an eye-opener for Troy, not necessarily on the sporting front, but in terms of how people live their lives in other parts of the world.

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“The experience in Nigeria was something else. Things are a lot tougher there. I wasn’t expecting that, things like the way they drive and the rules of the road, there aren’t many,” Troy related.

“We had an armed bodyguard with an AK-47 throughout our whole time there! You don’t want to go anywhere else besides your hotel and the playing fields. I had no idea that this was going to happen. It was a bit of a shock, but we were well looked after.”

On the field, things went well. South Africa beat Nigeria and booked themselves a place at the World Cup.

Troy Botha, rounding the bases for KZN in interprovincial competition. (Photos: supplied)

Predictably, given South Africa’s lack of international competition and relatively small base of players, there were some challenging games in New Zealand. There was one big loss to Australia, other games in which they were convincingly beaten, a couple which could have gone either way, and two which the South African side won, defeating Denmark 12-2 and the USA 11-7.

“That was quite an accomplishment,” Troy said about the win over the Americans.

“We lost close games to Singapore (8-9) and Mexico (5-7), where we could have pulled off the win, but things, at the end of the day, just didn’t fall our way.

Being a World Cup, though, South Africa did get to face the best teams in the world, including runners-up Australia and bronze medallists, the Czech Republic.

Viewed objectively, Troy said good memories were made: “We were chuffed with our performances. A lot of guys showed up well. It wasn’t a one-man show, it was a group effort.”

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While he has national colours in softball, Troy is looking to cricket to possibly help him onto a different big sporting stage.

Although a talented side, in the first term the form of the Westville 1st cricket team was somewhat inconsistent. Troy, an all-rounder, described it as tough. “We were meant to be quite a strong side; nobody seemed to be in form at the same time. If one guy fired, then the rest of the team seemed to let that player carry them.

“We did get quite a few good wins. We came close against Clifton, chasing quite a big total. They really did well. We fought hard and gave it our all.

“All the [KZN10] schools here are very good opposition. You don’t get games where you know you are going to win. It’s always 50/50.”

On a personal level, though, Troy had a solid season. “I was taking the wickets that I needed to,” he said.

“I want to try and go overseas, either the UK or Ireland, on a club cricket contract. Possibly, if I get the opportunity, I would then like to play on a bigger stage.

Troy, showing off his all-round ability for the Westville 1st cricket team. (Photos: supplied)

“I was recently approached by the Futura Sports Agency and I will be going for an interview with them. I have been keeping in contact with them and we’re going to have a meeting to try to get me into their Prodigy to Pro Program. They specialise in scouting overseas at academies to get opportunities for people like me to go and play there. That would be a big help.”

Interestingly, and it reflects well on the type of person Troy is, when asked what immediately comes to mind for the sporting highlights of his life so far, they’re all team-related Westville memories, and they’re not even in softball or cricket.

“It is about the team,” he said. “At under-16 level, we played rugby against Maritzburg College here, on Bowden’s, and Maritzburg College were unbeaten all season. They had beaten Glenwood, who, I think, were ranked first in the country at that time.

“We ended up beating them by something like 10 points, which was really special. Also, because it was the last game of the season.”

Troy on kicking duty during the rugby season. (Photo: supplied)

Troy is currently in the 2nd XV for the rugby season, playing at inside centre.

Then, revealing another string to his bow, he identified the football season of 2019 as another highlight. Troy was selected as left-back in the Westville 1st team, training under coaches Ryan Liberty and Brad Wood.

Being left-handed (and left-footed) is an advantage, Troy believes. (Photos: supplied)

It wasn’t a great season in terms of the overall results, he admitted, but there were some wonderful matches played. There was a fantastic come-from-behind win over Kearsney when Westville, down 0-1, struck twice in the last five minutes to win the game.

Then, there was a clash with Maritzburg College on Goldstone’s. It was the first time that College played a football match on their hallowed ground, the scene of so many cricket and rugby successes for the school from the KZN capital. Westville, though, spoilt the party. “It was quite an accomplishment to beat them on Goldstone’s,” Troy grinned.

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With such a busy sporting life, with much of it played at a very high level, balance is a challenge, but Troy performs solidly in the classroom. Given Westville’s outstanding academic tradition, it is expected of the boys, but, in his case, Troy said he owes his teachers a great deal.

“It is challenging academically and the teachers do challenge us, but the pressure is really good, and I appreciate the teachers for doing that. They really do help us a lot and they don’t sit back and wait for you to do your own thing. They put the pressure on you to make sure you perform to the best of your ability.”

And that pretty much sums up Troy Botha: performing to the best of his ability in a wide variety of sports and other aspects of school life and loving his time at Westville Boys’ High School.

The best boys’ school swimming team in South Africa

When the two very impressive pools in your Aquatic Centre are named after your school’s illustrious old boys, Chad le Clos and Chad Ho, one knows that good things have happened in your swimming programme, writes KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan.

When one asks the question when Westville Boys High was last beaten in a gala and no one can instantly recall the answer, there’s your second clue; the swimming programme at Westville Boys High isn’t just good, it’s exceptional.

In case you’ve been hibernating to avoid news for more than the past decade, Chad le Clos, who specialises in the butterfly, is an Olympic champion and a multiple world champion in both long course and short course swimming. He was the man who brought an end to the reign of the greatest swimmer the world has seen, Michael Phelps, in the American’s speciality, the 200m butterfly, at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Open water swimmer Chad Ho is a two-time World Championships medallist, finishing third in the 5km event in Rome in 2009, and winning gold in the 2015 World Champs over the same distance in Kazan. He’s also the record seven-time champion of the world’s largest open water swimming event, the aQuellé Midmar Mile.

Westville dominated Durban and District Gala

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The Chad le Clos Pool in the Westville Boys High School Aquatic Centre is very impressive and able to host galas and water polo matches.

So, there’s the past success. Then there’s the Aquatic Centre itself that the boys utilise at the school. It’s hugely impressive and, yes, huge too. It’s also a facility that would be the envy of most swimming clubs.

But, no matter how great a facility is, no matter how great a school’s history is, it takes good teachers to teach and motivate learners to challenge themselves to become better, and that is where Westville has led and continues to lead the way.

The foundations for Westville’s extraordinary swimming success were laid by former Deputy Headmaster Nestor Pierides, who passed away in January 2019. He had a passion for finding, developing and nurturing sportsmen and he especially promoted swimming.

It was because of Pierides that the school’s current swimming captain, Ian Brijlal, chose to attend Westville Boys’ High. Ian was a learner at Hopeville Primary School, mostly for the academics, he said, but the school also had a strong swimming tradition. When Pierides saw Ian in action at the National Championships, he approached his parents about the possibility of sending their son to Westville for his secondary schooling.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do for high school, but my parents were very moved by Mr Pierides coming to me. That made a big difference to me. I felt needed and wanted,” Ian said, sitting on one of the stands in the Aquatic Centre on Wednesday. “A lot of other swimmers that are in matric with me feel that sense of belonging, as if they need us, and that had a big impact.”

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Westville, though, is also a school with a strong academic tradition, and that was also part of the criteria Ian needed to meet. “The criteria are not only about swimming,” he said, “they’re also about academics. You need to have a good academic level. You can’t be failing and expect to get a scholarship, because you would then bring down the pass rate for matrics, and you would bring down the whole grade.”

To put the importance of academics at Westville into context, we’re not talking average, we’re talking well above average. The school has an incredible record in that sphere. In 2019, for example, 232 boys wrote the final exams, with 93 percent achieving Bachelor and Diploma passes. An astonishing 22 boys achieved seven distinctions or more.

Underlining just how well the school performed was the fact that 85 percent of the boys took core mathematics and 78 percent physical science, two subjects in which most South African schools perform abysmally. A further 33 boys wrote advanced programme mathematics.

As an athlete, Ian said he is determined to defy the stereotype that sportsman are not smart. Thus, he finds himself in one of the leading academic classes in matric. And he is not alone among the swimmers. It’s about all-round excellence and it’s about setting an example for others to follow.

Back to the pool…the big push to make Westville a powerhouse of the sport came in 2008, explained the Head of Aquatics, Jarred Appelgryn. That year, for the first time, the school won the Durban and Districts Gala, a competition comprising 4 x 50 metres relays in all strokes, in all age groups, and a ladder relay.

It’s a competition that truly focuses on the depth of swimming talent in a school. It’s also a competition that Westville has won every year since then, including 2020’s gala, which was held at the end of February, when they raced to victory in 22 out of the 26 races on the programme.

Westville swimming captain Ian Brijlal accepts the Durban and District’s winner’s trophy from DHS Headmaster Tony Pinheiro. (Photo: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

More than in galas of other formats, the focus of the Durban and Districts meet is on the team and while swimming might seem to be a sport that is centred on the individual the idea of team applies very strongly at Westville.

Nowadays, most school’s top swimmers train only with clubs. In most cases, that is 100 percent the case, but at Westville it’s not.

Graham Hill, a former South African national swimming team Olympic coach, is nearby, and a bus takes boys to training with him daily at 14:00, while Petro Nortjé, like Hill a multiple South African champion in various strokes, coaches boys in the Chad Ho swimming pool at the school. The vast majority of boys train with the two former swimming stars, the outstanding South African swimmers of their day, and the quality of the coaching they provide is superb.

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“It does make a big difference that they are all club swimmers. We’re not doing the training for about 75 percent of the boys,” Appelgryn said.

“Some afternoons, the captain will call a practice for a bit of team vibe. The other 25 percent of the boys that make up the team are waterpolo players. We’re doing our ‘polo fitness while they’re swimming, and then they also have ‘polo practice.

“The big difference is that the club players bring the speed element, but then your polo players, where they tie in, is they bring the team vibe.”

The decision to also develop waterpolo at the school was an important and valuable move, Appelgryn reckoned: “We decided that we can’t just hinge on swimming success. We had to bring in the waterpolo as well.

“Westville’s waterpolo was never the greatest, but every year now we’re lifting it a notch or two to be in the top three consistently in the province. We go to tournaments knowing we’re not going to be playing for the wooden spoon,” he said in a case of classic understatement.

Westville, seen here in a 12-7 win over DHS, is one of KwaZulu-Natal’s leading waterpolo-playing schools. (Photo: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

With competition so strong among the swimmers, Appelgryn said his main focus is on getting the team selection right, and at times, he explained, that means making selections based on intuition and not on times alone.

“Sometimes it is hard for boys to accept that the fourth swimmer is not the fourth best. Sometimes the boy who is fifth is five or six splits off [the fourth swimmer’s time], but he has more of a drive to win a race. There is a lot of gut feel when we sit down and pick our sides.

“It’s not simply [that we choose] our top four and the second fastest swims first, quickest swims last. Most of our fastest swimmers actually swim in third place in the relay against most of the other schools’ slowest swimmers, just to solidify a winning result, hopefully.

“At the end of the day, we try to encourage boys to remember that it is not just an individualistic sport at school. At club level, it is. You need to remember that you are swimming for your school and for the guys next to you.

“We try to base it off of the American style where the institutions there back their swimmers, so that they’re representing their teams, not themselves.”

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There is also little room for complacency in such a competitive environment, swimming captain Ian related: “Swimming times are always changing, guys are always improving. It’s talent, but mainly hard work.

“In grade eight, maybe you are the best, but you stop training as hard and swim every now and again, and think you can keep it up. You can’t.

“If someone is training hard, they can be ranked last, but two years down the line they will overtake you. That happened to me, and to many others, and it is a wake-up call. I think every athlete needs that.

“You have to always be on your game. You can’t expect to win every single thing. You have to put in hard work to win. All the athletes at this school put in the hard work.”

A dramatic start to a backstroke relay at the Durban and Districts Gala where Westville finished a convincing 45 points ahead of the second placed team. (Photo: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

“It’s not as if Westville is just going to win every gala. You can’t win unless you work hard. Everyone has to step up their game, and they do.”

Being appointed the captain of the Westville Boys’ High swimming team was a huge honour, Ian continued: “It meant a lot to me because this school is undefeated. There’s a lot of pressure, but it feels important as well, and it gives a lot of meaning to my life.

“Giving speeches on behalf of Westville has meant a lot because you have a lot of responsibility. If you mess up or lose, I feel personally responsible for that too. If you win, our entire team wins.

Action from one of the 50 metres breaststroke relay events at the Durban and Districts Gala. (Photo: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

“I think it is my job as captain to try and motivate everyone to try and do better, and to bring them up when they are down.”

Citing the Durban and District Gala, where DHS managed three relay wins to Westville’s two in the under-15 age group, he said: “Take the under-15s, they’re not a bad age group. They’re still under-15 and there is still a way to go to the open age group. If they have the right grounding now, and if they learn from their losses, they can work harder and maybe by the time they’re competing at under-17 or open level they will win.”

Head of Aquatics, Jarred Appelgryn, weighed in, saying that while winning is good it is not the be all and end all of matters: “Most of the time, we are one step ahead of the opposition. But it’s also nice to not always be a step ahead. It’s nice that the boys lose a race. We lost four at Durban and Districts. It’s nice because the boys, then, don’t get complacent.

“Two or three years ago, I don’t think the boys lost a race, period. But you could see that the boys became complacent, not that one can necessarily blame them. Therefore, it is good to be beaten every now and again.”

He feels some pressure to maintain the winning tradition, he admitted: “but I think when you’ve got a team like I do, including [members of staff] Brad Rowe, Andrew Stewart and Tanya Bower, there is a lot of experience.

“As much as it is my first year stepping in as Head of Aquatics, the marketing guys are with us and there are people looking out for the boys. The teachers help our swimmers academically, too. It’s a massive team effort that leads to the final performance.”

Star swimmer Luca Holtzhausen, who broke five records in the Nestor Pierides Inter-provincial gala, including a Chad le Clos butterfly mark, Head of Aquatics Jarred Appelgryn, and swimming captain Ian Brijlal show off the silverware awarded to the winning school in the Alan Burt Gala, the Nestor Pierides Inter-provincial gala, the Kwa-Zulu Natal High Schools Top 10 Gala and the Durban and Districts Gala. (Photo: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

A look at four of the trophies currently in Westville’s possession tell an incredible story of excellence: champions of the Durban and Districts Gala, the Kwa-Zulu Natal High Schools’ Top 10 Gala, the Alan Burt Gala, and, most importantly to the school itself, the winners of the Nestor Pierides Inter-Provincial Gala every year since 2008.

At times, people lose the love of the sport they participate in, because of the pressure that comes with winning and the expectation that that success should continue. But, if Westville swimming captain Ian Brijlal is any example of the general feeling among the Griffins’ swimmers, the enjoyment of competition has not been lost.

“I love racing. I love the closeness of the gala. For example, the Nestor Pareidis Gala was amazing. Grey College, Saint David’s, Affies and Saint Benedict’s were really close. It was crazy.

“I enjoy close races. Winning all the time is not as much fun. There is no point in winning all the time, otherwise you lose purpose. We lost a few races and it kept people on their toes.”

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Appelgryn echoed Ian’s sentiments: “There is performance pressure when it comes to galas, especially like the Affies Gala, which we were losing by about 17 points halfway through the gala, and then I was wondering was I going to be that guy [who oversaw the end of the winning streak].

But, at no point is someone watching my back, saying don’t mess this up, which is nice. It actually makes my job quite easy in terms of dealing with the kids and the way I can deal with them. I am not putting that onto them to secure my job. That’s make a big difference for them as well.”

It is said that success breeds success and that is true, but to continue to succeed one needs to strive to achieve ever higher goals, lest the challengers catch up.

At Westville, each and every swimmer strives to better himself, for his benefit and for the benefit of the team, and, inevitably it seems, Westville wins again. 

Westville dominate Durban and District Gala

DHS played host to the annual Durban and District Gala on Tuesday afternoon. The event – featuring DHS, Westville, Northwood, Glenwood, Clifton and Kearsney – consisted of the 4 x 50m relay in all strokes in the under-14, under-15, under-16, under-17 and under-19 age groups and culminated in the 5 x 50m freestyle ladder relay, writes KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan.

Contested late in the afternoon, a decently sized crowd took in some good competition in pleasant conditions, with the powerhouse Westville team, predictably, dominating proceedings. A total of 26 events were contested with the Griffins excelling and capturing the honours in 22 of the 26 relays.

While Westville ruled the roost in the Durban and Districts Gala, DHS shone in the under-15 age group, picking up wins in three of the five relays (All photos: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

They impressed with their depth, not only in the various strokes, but also throughout the various age groups. Westville also swept all relays in the under-14, under-16 and under-17 age groups.

The best boys’ school swimming team in South Africa

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Westville swimming phenom Luca Holtzhausen dreams big

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Clifton picked up a very impressive win in the under-19 freestyle relay, which, obviously, meant their time of 1:40.84 was the fastest recorded in any relay on the day. That was the only race Westville didn’t win in the senior age group.

The competition took place in ideal late afternoon conditions, with a nice crowd in attendance.

DHS were especially strong at under-15 level. In fact, they claimed three wins to Westville’s two, with the hosts giving the crowd plenty to cheer with victories in the backstroke, butterfly and medley relays, while Westville reigned supreme in the freestyle and breaststroke races.

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A hallmark of the gala, which was very pleasing to witness, was the friendly nature of the competition. It echoed days gone by when winning was not all that mattered and the appreciation of challenging oneself and others was as important as the result itself.

So, well done to all the swimmers and the coaches (and moms and dads); besides the excellence of the performances, the good-natured racing stood out.

From the first event to the last, there was no doubt that Westville would claim the silverware as champions of the Durban and Districts Gala. DHS headmaster Tony Pinheiro presented the winner’s trophy to Westville captain Ian Brijlal.

RESULTS

1st: Westville 152 points
2nd: Clifton 107 points
3rd: DHS 90 points
4th T: Glenwood 69 points
4th T: Kearsney 69 points
6th: Northwood 57 points

DHS outlast Westville in lively basketball showdown

Hot weather and a light wind made scoring difficult early on in Saturday’s basketball encounter between DHS and Westville in Durban, writes KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan.

In stark contrast to the high temperature, both teams started off with stone-cold shooting. The defences dominated and were aided by some wayward shooting from both sides.

 

DHS overcame a spirited Westville first team 63-41 in an entertaining clash. (All photos: Brad Morgan, KZN10.com)

 

It took a good 2 or 3 minutes and numerous attempted shots before the first basket dropped. When it did, the game began to settle down.

DHS edge Northwood in basketball thriller

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Hosts DHS were the first to find some offensive rhythm and they profited from a number of forced turnovers to ease into a 15-9 lead.

The advantage doubled when DHS moved – almost imperceptibly – into a clear 24-12 lead, but Westville hit back with a number of late baskets to close to within 9 points (18-29) at the break.

Homeboys DHS offered up very few open shots to Westville, who had to battle for every basket-scoring opportunity.

 When the contested restarted, it was DHS who hit their straps first, utilising their stout defence and strong rebounding in the paint to create turnovers once again – and hit Westville on the break.

Slowly but surely the gap increased and it became clear that this would be the home team’s day. But it wasn’t going to be without a fight.

Westville – a team in transition according to Sports Director Waylon Murray – kept battling to the end.

Time after time – when it appeared that DHS would pull away and turn the contest into a blowout – the never-say-die Westville first team responded with a flurry of baskets.

However, a sound structure and strong defence carried the day for the DHS lads, who ran out 63-41 winners in what was a hard-fought battle.

Now that’s what KZN10.com calls red-blooded determination! A gritty performance from DHS in less-than-ideal conditions eventually saw the hosts claim victory over Westville. 

Source: Sunday Tribune

 

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