Pietee Coetzee sets about extending her world goalscoring record this morning as South Africa tip off the FIH Champions Challenge quarter-finals at 10am against Spain, taking the field as major contenders for the title.
Her journey to 221 – and subsequently to 222 with a late equaliser on Tuesday afternoon against the US – is a remarkable one given that she spent five years away from the national side.
She hopes to finish those studies in October, combining those rigours with playing at the highest level but the influence of coach Giles Bonnet, coming up with a plan to get her back involved was too enticing to turn down, she told The Hook.
“His appointment was probably close to being the sole motivator [for my return]. He definitely sold it well to me as a possibility.
“In the five years I took off, that was one of the big reasons why I stopped playing, to concentrate on my studies. Last year, I had an easier year and eventually Giles approached me so it worked out well.
“The job requires 100pc of your time. It’s a lot of juggling that goes on. The kind of lifestyle to do that job is not ideal for top sport because you work 12 hours and sometimes through the night but, at the moment, I’m trying to work around it.”
As for reaching the record, Coetzee admits she knew little of Natalya Krasnikova nor her mark which stood for over 20 years with Bonnet doing the stats after the striker returned to the South African setup in 2010.
Asked whether Bonnet used the 220 target as a motivational tool for her, Coetzee replies: “I don’t know if it was his intention but it definitely worked!
“At the time I reached 200, I was actually tenser than the last 20. In the last two tournaments, it’s just been a bit more relaxed about it in general and was not very conscious about but hoping it would come.”
The manner in which the landmark was achieved was suitably breath-taking, two drag-flicks and a cracking strike on the run – all in the space of 12 first half minutes – saw her over the line.
It led to euphoric celebrations, every member of her team racing to celebrate the moment. It might have acted as a slight distraction as her side gave up a 4-2 lead to trail against the US in the final stretch, a suggestion to which she jokes: “I would hope not but if we need an excuse let’s use that one!”
Nonetheless, Coetzee took no time to start on building her record further, a late, leg glance to Melissa Keet’s crash bringing her to the double nelson, 222, and fittingly rescuing a point and top spot in Group A.
FIH Champion’s Challenge, quarter-final draw: South Africa vs Spain, 10am; Japan vs India, 12.30pm; Azerbaijan vs Scotland, 3pm; Ireland vs USA, 5.30pm
** To follow the tournament live, live streaming is available here, twitter updates of the major incidents can be found here while the FIH’s official website gives the latest standings of the tournament. Reports will be posted on The Hook throughout the day. To see all the photos from the tournament from our friends at the Irish Hockey Photographers, click here
** Photos with thanks to Rodrigo Jaramillo