IT’S not every day you find a grade 11 boy who plays three major first team sports – and plays all three at provincial or national level. Hilton College’s Suubi Mugerwa-Sekawabe is one of them.
Born and raised in East London, where the family home is, the 17-year-old Suubi quickly made his mark at Hilton and has grown from strength to strength.
First team cricket, hockey and soccer, does Suubi find the sheer number of practices and matches puts a strain on his enthusiasm?
Featured image: Suubi Mugerwa-Sekawabe celebrates an opposition wicket during the Coca-Cola Schools National Franchise T20 Finals at Tuks in Pretoria earlier this year.
“Good afternoon, sir, the practices for the different sporting codes can be difficult to balance at times. However, I remain enthusiastic about every practice that I attend. In the first term of this year, balancing my cricket commitments with my pre-season hockey ones was a challenge.
“For pre-season hockey we normally had practices on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Due to my cricket commitments, such as T20 competitions and various tours, I ended up missing a few of these hockey practices. For similar reasons, I missed a number of pre-season soccer training sessions as a result of my hockey commitments in the second term.
“We are in the third term at the moment and I have not been able to go to any pre-season cricket practices as the soccer season is compact, there is a strenuous soccer programme. Generally, throughout the year I have a sports practice on every day of the week, which can be exhausting but my enjoyment of sport means that I can push myself in each and every session.”
I have watched Suubi play more hockey than soccer or cricket – he caught my eye for the first time at the top-tier 2017 Nomads Hockey Festival hosted by Hilton College – and immediately I knew he was one to watch.
A centre-back for the first hockey team, Suubi enjoys his role because it allows him to set up the platform for Hilton College to attack.
“I try and provide the team with a solid base. Centre-back enables me to contribute because I pride myself on both my distribution over distance, which helps take pressure off the team, and my positioning, which helps me break up play by intercepting the ball, which I can then lay off to the more skilful players.”
That is a modest take on your skills, Suubi, you are certainly not lacking in the skill department.
Suubi has racked up a host of honours in his burgeoning sports career. Here’s what he’s achieved so far on the hockey Astro:
“I have represented Border U13A hockey at the Interprovincial Nationals (IPT), as well as KZN Inland U14A, KZN Inland U16A (twice) and this year KZN Inland U18A. It has always been a privilege to represent my provincial teams. However, the (Old Mutual iWYZE) U18A Hockey Nationals (at the Maritzburg College and AB Jackson Astros in July) has been my most memorable tournament to date.
“Despite the fact that our KZN Inland team lost a very tight final (1-0) to KZN Coastal, it sent a strong message to the hockey fraternity that KZN is still a major force in SA hockey. I want to carry on playing hockey at university and hopefully make some national teams from there, but I am aware that it will be very difficult to do so.”
Suubi was selected for the SA U18 hockey team that played in the floodlit series against Australia U17 Schoolboys at the University of KZN Pietermaritzburg campus less than two months ago. It was a thriller that went the way of the Aussie boys, but not by much.
So what does Suubi remember most about that series? What did he learn from it so that in 2019 he will be an even better hockey player in Hilton College colours?
“Being part of the SA U18 hockey team was a humbling experience and I was very grateful to be part of an international series. I remember singing the national anthem in front of thousands of people in the stands. It felt amazing to know that people were supporting you representing your country.
“I learnt that international hockey is fast and intense. Therefore if you are not in the game mentally you will be lost. In 2019, I want to use this experience to bring more intensity to the way Hilton play and to make smarter decisions on the field.
“This is my second full year of playing first team hockey. I have around 35 caps. I made my debut against Glenwood last year as a midfielder. The intensity was greater than anything I had been exposed to. I played against good players, such as Clayton Saker and Jared Cass, which granted me an opportunity to see where my skills were compared to some of the best schoolboy hockey players.
“During my first year playing first team, I was used as a left-sided midfielder. I have developed my game through well-structured hockey practices led by Mr (Devon) van der Merwe, Mr (Darryn) Gallagher and Mr (Matthew) Fairweather and by trying to imitate the more senior players in the set-up.”
So what has been Suubi’s most memorable hockey match in the Black and White colours of Hilton College? The response is immediate.
“Definitely the home game vs Kearsney last year. The match was the most intense schoolboy hockey match I have ever played in, and we ended up winning it 4-3.
“Playing in that match, it felt like going on an emotional rollercoaster. It took a massive team effort both mentally and physically to come up with a win. That match will be remembered by our team as one of our season-defining moments.”
And of this year’s team?
“Our Hilton College first team hockey captain Duncan Fyvie was instrumental in how our game plan was executed. He was able to distribute very well from midfield, he had the skills to unlock any opposition defence; his work rate was exceptional. He always covered the most distance in a match.
“Another player that stood out for me was Alex Warren, who was able to carry the ball at an incredible pace, which disrupted the defence of many opposition teams. There were more players that stood out, such as Luke Grove, Michael Makris and Cameron Pearce, and I feel privileged to have been able to play with such quality team-mates.”
When a boy is so obviously proficient in all three sports, it is perhaps a bit unfair to ask him to single out his favourite, but I did so anyway.
“I enjoy playing soccer the most. I just love how the game is played and how easy it is to be able to play casual pop-up games – because all you require is a ball. I’ve watched soccer with my family since I was 4 years old and my interest in the game has grown over time.”
On the soccer pitch, Suubi plays as a defensive midfielder.
“I love playing this position as it requires you to work hard and you are always involved in the game in either a defensive or offensive sense. I feel that my strength in the midfield enables me to add value as I am able to provide cover for the back four and win ball back for the team.
In his soccer career so far, Suubi has also caught the eye of the selectors.
“I represented Border U13A and have made KZN midlands teams in U14, U15 and U16. I really would like to make KZN soccer one day (KZN Inland and KZN Coastal – unlike in cricket and hockey – are one combined province in soccer) and am working towards that for next year.”
So how many years, how many matches, has Suubi played first XI soccer at Hilton College, and how has his game developed since his debut?
“This is my second year playing first team soccer. I currently have around 30 caps for the side. My first team debut came against St. Charles last year. It was a tough game because we got a red card early and played the majority of the match with 10 men.
“What I learnt is that at first team level you need to be quicker with the ball at your feet – and you must match the other team’s physicality in order to succeed.
“My most memorable Hilton football match has to be the game against Carter High in the MTN PMB FA Cup (less than a fortnight ago). We were 2-0 down with around 15 minutes left. It was a very hot day and we were drained.
“We are generally a fit team due to our high-intensity training – coached by Mr (Celo) Mbanjwa – and we knew that we would be able to come back from 2-0 down as we had done it against Michaelhouse earlier in the season, even though we ended up losing that game.
“Simi Bhembe scored two goals and Darrel Nkomo one, in a comeback which saw us win 3-2. Coming from behind to win a match is one of the best feelings in sport and I was very proud that we managed to do so in such tough conditions against a very good side.”
Indeed, the heroics of the Hilton College side received its due reward when they retained the PMB FA Cup after a thrilling final against Maritzburg College on August 26.
“Captain Michael Makris and vice-captain Simi Bhembe have really stood out this year. Michael is a very good midfielder who wins the ball back regularly for our team and has come up with very important goals this season. He is close to being a complete midfielder.
“Simi has been one of the best soccer players in KZN this season in my opinion. He is able to both score and assist and was named in the MTN PMB FA Cup Team of the Tournament. His ability on the ball is important to the team as he is very creative. Our team is very tight, and everyone is pulling their own weight, which has helped us in terms of team performances.”
Suubi’s cricket career has also been studded with provincial recognition.
“I have made KZN inland U15 and KZN Inland U17 cricket sides. We took part in the SA Cricket Weeks in Potchefstroom and East London respectively. At the SA U15 Week we did reasonably well. We beat Gauteng in a very intense time game, which was a huge achievement.
“The Cricket Weeks are eye-opening because you get to play with and against the best cricketers in the country and you are able to judge what it takes to do well.”
So which has been his most most memorable cricket game in the first XI to date? Once again the answer is immediate:
“The Coca-Cola Schools National T20 Challenge Franchise Finals at Tuks in Pretoria. It was not a single game, it was an awesome experience to have. The organisers, through the sponsors, treated each school first XI like professional teams. We got to experience the life of a professional cricketer.
“We had a brilliant tournament, convincingly beating top schools, but we ended up losing the final. I felt like I was paying senior franchise cricket as we were wearing colourful clothing and playing with the white balls. That T20 tournament is one of my most memorable schoolboy sporting experiences.”
Granted that the cricket season is far from over, who are the players in Suubi’s Hilton College team that he feels are having a particularly successful year?
“Playing alongside some of the best schoolboy cricketers is very humbling. Sharing a change-room with the likes of Michael Sclanders, Gareth Schreuder, Robbie McGaw, James Ritchie (captain), Mike Booth, John Turner, Tom Dixon and many more, it is probably one of the best set of SA schoolboy cricketers you will find.
“Seeing the way each of them approach the game is very important as we have a very good team atmosphere. We all understand what we need to bring to the team and everyone is always looking to improve which shows the optimistic mentality of the players. It is hard to single out any player as it has mostly been lots of people being able to contribute at different times this season.
Suubi, I have seen you play many more hockey than soccer matches. What struck me in the numerous HC firsts hockey matches I have been privileged to watch over the past two years, is that you seem to have extra time when in possession of the ball. Have you always shown these characteristics in your hockey and soccer or has it been something you’ve worked on?
“I think that I have naturally always had these characteristics because I believe in the passing game in football and hockey. This means that you always have to try and be in the right positions to allow yourself the extra time needed to help pick a pass to a team-mate. I never like to panic in situations because you need to show self-confidence in yourself to make the right decisions for the team. I am a very competitive player and I would consider myself a calming influence.”
Suubi, I felt that, given their abundant talent, the HC first hockey team had an up-and-down season. For example, HC were outstanding in the return match against Michaelhouse, after losing the first one at House, having lost the opportunity to go two or three goals up in the early exchanges. Do you feel that finding a consistent run of form was difficult for the side to achieve? And how many of this year’s first hockey team will be back next year?
“Sir, I felt that this year was more inconsistent than last year. We were not able to see out matches or take advantage in games when we were on top. I think that it is easy to use the fact that we had a young team this year as an excuse.
“We had lost key players like captain James Beart, Damon Wheals and Nicolai Boorman from the 2017 team. However, I feel that the younger guys really improved this year and I feel optimistic for next year. We are fortunate that the majority of the team this year consisted of players in grade 11 and grade 10, so the experience they acquired this year will stand them in good stead next year.”
To date, would you say that the HC first soccer team have had a good year? The 2018 MTN PMB FA Cup successful defence of the title on penalty shootout over Maritzburg College a week or two ago was an outstanding effort.
“I feel that we have had a good year as we have only lost 3 out of 25 games so far. This is a pretty good record. Winning the MTN PMB FA Cup is a major boost for our season as many seasons are defined by the trophies you win. I was in the 2017 team, but I never played in the final during the tournament. We have an upcoming match against Kearsney (away on 8th September) and we are looking on ending the season on a high note.”
Has the support of family and friends also been a major contributor to your successful sporting path to date?
“My Mom and Dad have given me the confidence needed for me to do well in sport.
“My parents often come during the various seasons to support me even though they still live in East London, which is far. I’d like to thank my brother, who also attended Hilton, for always helping me improve on my sport and encouraging me through the tough times, and my sister for her wisdom she gives me about life on a daily basis.
“Mr (Nick) Pereira, the school physiotherapist, for always helping me get through my injuries and being someone I am able to talk to. The support of my family has been so very beneficial, and they always make sure that I stay humble and keep on working hard.”
There is not much left of your grade 11 year. You have already achieved much in your sport, yet there is still one more year (2019) in which to play school sport. Do you think it might be difficult to motivate yourself to keep working on improving your hockey, soccer and cricket?
“Motivation is never really an issue for me. I know when I represent Hilton I am not just representing the current but also the past. It is a privilege in itself just to be able to play a first team sport at Hilton and I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to play three.
“My motivation comes from always trying to give my best for the school as I know the coaches in the respective disciplines are willing to fight for the boys and we must be able to fight for them in terms of getting results and improving.”
Suubi, you have spent four years at one of South Africa’s most highly regarded boys boarding schools, what has your time at HC taught you so far, what has been the biggest factor in your time so far at Hilton that you feel will stay with you well into the future?
“At Hilton College, the message that is sent out by the staff is to make the most of every day and of the time you have at the school. Manners are driven at Hilton College and it will stay with me through the rest of my life.
“Hilton has taught me more about the person I am and the way you must approach life. The teachers tell us that we are privileged to go to Hilton and that we must embrace rather than deny it as we are able to bring change the world.”
Suubi, it has been a privilege to interact with you. Is there anything else you would like to add?
“Thank you sir. I would like to thank Merrifield Prep & College (my primary school in East London) for giving me a strong base to start my life and young sporting career. They supported me all the way and my gratitude towards the school is immense.”
Thanks for your time Suubi, 2019… it’s going to be an awesome year. Best wishes for Saturday at Kearsney and for the rest of the year’s cricket. See you at Oppenheimer Michaelmas Cricket hosted by Maritzburg College. It’s just 24 days away now!