The 23 players are training under the blazing afternoon sun at the Mutiara Impian Sports School turf. The centralised training is part of their final phase of preparation for the National Schools Sports Council (MSSM) Hockey Champion-ship from June 7 to 12 in Kuantan.
The Penangites finished third last year and are confident of challenging for the gold medal this time.
“The players are training in the early afternoon because the MSSM girls’ matches are normally held during these hours,” said coach Leo Vincey
“The prime evening slots will be reserved for the boys’ matches.
“My players are happy to work out at any time of the day.
“They have learnt to cope with the heat and the experience will come in handy as the girls’ final is scheduled for the early afternoon in Kuantan.”
Although his initial target is only the semi-finals, Leo is optimistic that Penang will make the final and even grab the gold medal.
Leo, who led the Mutiara Impian Sports School girls to their fifth straight Penang schools Under-18 title last month, is coaching the state team with his wife Shanta Devi.
Shanta, also a teacher, is the coach of SMK Bakti in Tasik Gelugor.
Most of the players in the Penang squad, comprising 21 members from the Mutiara Impian Sports School and two players from the Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School (SSTMI) in Johor, were part of the team which won the MSSM Under-16 title two years ago.
The two Penang-born SSTMI players, Nur Adriana Nawawi and Nur Hafizah Mazlan, are both forwards. They were roped in to boost the team’s goal count in Kuantan.
“I rate Kuala Lumpur and Selangor as our biggest threats in Kuantan. We are on course to meet KL in the semi-finals,” said Leo.
Penang are drawn with Kedah and Johor for the group stage. The Penang girls defeated Johor in all the four friendly matches recently.
Penang captain Ashweeny Rezleen Azman feels the strong team spirit among the players will help them pull through.
“Almost the whole team is made up of Mutiara Impian players. We have been together as a team for the last five years and the bond is very strong.
“We lost to KL last year and beating them this year will be sweet revenge as they are strong challengers.
“Our fitness level and technical preparations are excellent. We need only last-minute fine-tuning in training to cut out the minor mistakes.
“Then, we will be ready to challenge for the title,” said the 17-year-old Ashweeny.
The MSSM boys’ Under-18 hockey competition will be held during the same period as the girls’ competition in Kuantan.
The Penang boys are coached by Yap Gark Soo of Penang Free School and Muhamad Amirul Abdullah of Mutiara Impian.
The Penang Girls Under-18 Squad:
Ashweeny Rezleen Azman, Fatin Isha Faizul, Nur Syaza Haziqah, Izniza Ismail, Nur Dayana Izzati, Nusyamimi Shaffin, Natasya Iqbal, Nur Hidayah Fatihah, Shahirah Fauzi, Nur Shuhada Razali, Nur Izzati Malik, Nur Anis Zulaikha, Mimie Zulaikha Zaini, Saffiyatun Husna Izzati, Noor Shafirah Sabri, Nurul Hidayah Sanusi, Alia Izzaty Izham, Farah Hanim Sobri, Nur Mazzatul Hanimsyafi, Salina Abdullah, Nur Amira Asyiqin (all from Mutiara Impian Sports School), Nur Adriana Nawawi, Nur Hafizah Mazlan (both from Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School).