GOAL-ORIENTATED: Marsha Marescia dribbles the ball during the recent Investec series. She started playing hockey at the age of six with her mom also being a player and a coach. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Hockey maestro Marsha Marescia, who will captain the South African team at the Olympics, made her debut for the national side in October 2001 when she was just 18. She has already represented South Africa at two Olympic Games, two World Cups and the Commonwealth Games.
In an exclusive interview from Holland, where she plays for Rotterdam Hockey Club, Marescia says she is looking forward to the London Olympics. “I am still motivated to play for South Africa. I am extremely passionate about the game, about South Africa and mostly about our team,” says Marescia.
“Knowing that you are not alone in your quest to greatness helps keep me motivated to continue working hard at extending myself as a player. The friendships that I have gained through hockey also help to keep me grounded and to enjoy the game.”
She says if she did not choose hockey as a career she would have been involved in marketing. “I always thought of myself as being this successful female in the marketing industry, but the desire to be successful at hockey was much greater,” says Marescia.
It has been a long journey for one of South Africa’s brightest hockey stars.
Marescia says: “Basically, I grew up on the side of the field with my mom being a really good player and coach. I started playing when I was six and never stopped,” says Marescia. “By the time I was 16 years old I had basically chosen hockey over other sports codes at school. I had been selected for my first provincial team, KwaZulu-Natal, at age 12 for the under-13 A team.”
Marescia says she continued on this path and started playing for the under-18 side when she was only 14 years old.
“I was then picked to play for the South African under-21 Junior World Cup team in 2001 at the age of 18 and later that year made my debut for the national team.
“I became captain of the team in 2006 and at first it was a big challenge as I was still discovering a lot about myself as a person and a player, but the challenges now are different and I believe that I have learnt from past experiences and past captains as well.”
Some of that learning was provided by her mom who has been a constant pillar of support and inspiration. “My mum is my hero, she has achieved so much in her life and is still so ambitious,” says Marescia.
“She is encouraging and supportive of my dreams and ambitions and she is also very honest with me. My older brother is also very supportive.”
Marescia grew up in Durban where she attended Greenwood Park Primary School and also Northlands Girls High School.
“I studied at the University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN) and then moved to Johannesburg after the 2004 Athens Olympic games, where I continued studying at the University of Johannesburg, although I soon started working and enjoyed the corporate world”.
For now the goal is to do well at the Olympics. “All things are possible, but realistically we are not aiming to win gold,” says the unassuming hockey player.
“For the first time we will have the most experienced South African team ever at the Olympics. The successful teams at past games are those teams that have been medal contenders at either the World Cup, past Olympics or a champion’s trophy tournament,” says Marescia.
The South African national hockey team has never been medal contenders at any of these tournaments. While the team might have a competitive nature, the talent and the desire to win gold, Marescia acknowledges that “we lack the experience”.
Like any team, adequate training is a major part of South Africa’s national hockey side’s quest for success. Some of her teammates are also based in Holland.
“We train with our Dutch club teams four times a week, we also go to the gym twice a week, usually have training with the other South African girls based in Holland twice a week and then we play a highly competitive league game every Sunday,” says Marescia.
She has adapted to living in the Netherlands.
“I quite enjoy the Netherlands. I am enjoying experiencing the Dutch culture and I like that they really go for what they want. This I found inspirational, as sometimes in life we need to take risks,” says Marescia.
“On the field it is tough, but I love the challenge. The competition is the best in the world and competing at this high level on a weekly basis only adds to good preparation for the Olympic Games. It can be tough being so far away from family and friends, but technology today brings us closer daily and we also have a good opportunity to make new friends too.”
Asked if there were any major challenges to captaining an ambitious side, Marescia says: “I think one of my strengths is leading by example”.
“I am extremely passionate about South African hockey and I think this shows in the choices I make and the dedication that I have to the team.
“On the field I just want to play and make a difference, and sometimes making the difference means being the supporter of the others when they are playing well and sometimes it means standing up and making the difference myself.”
Like most sporting teams the national hockey side probably has a ritual that it follows before a game, but Marescia is not about to reveal all.
“We do have some team traditions in the change room,” she says without going into specifics.
“On my own I like to mentally prepare for the game while getting dressed in my room and then I try to relax more on the bus or on our way to the field. This is when I quietly say a prayer (we don’t pray as a team, but I know a number of the players do it on their own). I listen to my iPod before the game as well.”
Aked what it takes to go through and prevail in the qualifiers, Marescia says: “We had an intense preparation period with a number of international games, which paid off in the end as we entered the final being the most prepared team for the event. It was tough because, psychologically, each player knows that we would only get one chance to qualify, but once we had done it we were thrilled.
“We feel that we deserve to be in London and our results prove it and now that we have the chance to participate in London we are looking forward to another tough tournament, but hope to do better than we have done at past Olympic games.”
She also had a few words for their fans.
“For the supporters of our team, thank you so much for your belief and continued support; and to aspiring female hockey players, to play at the top you have to be prepared to accept that it will not be easy, but be motivated to overcome these challenges because victory is the greatest feeling and worth the hard work and commitment. If you love what you are doing, it will never feel like hard work,” says Marescia. However, Marescia admits there have been a few laughs along the way. On her fondest fun memory of the journey to the Olympics, Marescia says: “I have numerous great memories as a hockey player – it is difficult to pick out one – but I can share a recent fond memory with the national team at our Olympic qualifier.
“We had some fun activities as a team and we found ourselves running around the five-star hotel barefoot and screaming like little girls. I guess you had to be there to experience it but when