Justin Smith with the Aitken Trophy and Jeppe MIC Mr Bryan Hillock
Justin Smith, Jeppe’s 1st team hockey captain for 2018 is justifiably proud of their unbeaten season, and puts it down to always remembering the goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the season – to win the Aitken Trophy, finish unbeaten, and be the top-ranked hockey school in the land.
“We agreed on those goals in the pre-season when mental strength specialist. Ryan Milella, worked with us, and he has been there, in the background all through the season, keeping us on that track mentally,” Justin said.
Milella’s input was all about keeping focussed, Ryan said. “He taught us how to think in the pre-game period, and gave us breathing techniques designed to calm us down.” The players had to fill in questionnaires regularly to monitor their mental attitudes.
As important as Milella’s mental preparation was, Justin believes the technical expertise of coach Lance Louw was behind their success. “Mr Louw is a top player, who has been there and knows what it is to be in pressure situations,” he said. “What makes him a great coach is that he is able to communicate with us. He understands how the players feel and is able to get through to them.”
The real secret, Justin believes, lies in the way in which everyone in the team got on with each other really well. “We were the first group that never played under-15 hockey, so some of us went into the under-16s in grade nine, and in grade 10 we played with the best of that year’s grade nines . That meant the core of this side has been together for a long time and we know each other well. We had a great understanding on the field, great team spirit, and great friendships.”
The 5-0 win over Parktown in their final fixture meant that they played 31 games in all, winning 22 and drawing 9. The pressure of a possible unbeaten season created some nerves towards the end, but luckily the team was an experienced one, Justin says. “Quite a few of us played for the 1st team last year, so we knew we had the beating of the schools we met in the runup to the end of the season.”
They played just about all of the top schools in the country although, Justin said, there were one or two who they didn’t meet but would have loved to.“We never played Grey College, for example,” he said. “We lost to them last year and it would have been nice to beat them too. With this team I think we would have done it.”
Ryan has a serious tendon injury, so there will be no hockey in the foreseeable future. “I never intended going to varsity next year, anyway, I want to try out a few different career areas. Hopefully I’ll get over the injury and then hockey will definitley be part of my life again.
“It’s been a great five years at Jeppe. It has helped shaped me and prepared me for what lies ahead.”