Lockdown halted preparations for junior women’s hockey WC, says captain

The Indian junior women’s hockey team was preparing for the 2020 Junior Asia Cup in Kakamigahara, Japan which was to begin on April 6 this year when COVID-19 pandemic halted the team’s quest to achieve a berth for the Junior Women’s World Cup by winning the continental championship.

“We were in the national coaching camp since first week of March and we were very focused on performing well at the Junior Asia Cup which would have got us direct qualification into the FIH Junior World Cup 2021 to be held in South Africa. But the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown halted our preparations,” expressed Suman Devi Thoudam, who successfully led the Indian team in the Cantor Fitzgerald U21 International 4-Nations Tournament and the Belarus Tour last year.

She was also instrumental in the team’s winning performance at the 3-Nations Tournament in Australia held in December last year.

“We had shaped up well as a team and with some good performances last year, we were quite confident of a good show in the Junior Asia Cup in Japan,” Suman added.

With the national camp for junior women ending on March 19, Suman’s compatriots left for home however she decided to stay back in SAI, Bengaluru where the senior teams were housed. “My tickets were booked for March 22 but due to the Janta Curfew I couldn’t travel. Though my tickets were rebooked for March 24, I decided to stay back in SAI because I felt it was safer there and there was a lot of uncertainty at the time,” she said.

On asked how a young player like her faced the challenges of staying indoors during the nation-wide lockdown, she said, “At first, I was scared and felt that there was so much uncertainty. Myself and three others who were going through rehab due to their injury were the only ones from the junior team who had stayed back in SAI during this period (lockdown) and it probably would have been difficult if not for the constant support from senior players and Wayne Lombard (Scientific Advisor).”

“I focused on core strengthening workouts which could be done indoors and some conditioning work which Wayne used to give us. Also, he would tell us that it’s important to improve our immunity and stay fit to fight this pandemic which made us motivated through this period,” Suman added.

Returning home after three months on June 19, Suman was in institutional quarantine for 14 days as per state rules in Manipur and will further remain in home quarantine for another 14 days.

“The institutional quarantine in Imphal was quite comfortable. There were about seven students who were in quarantine along with myself and the facilities including the food, everything was good. Also the volunteers there were mostly from my home club where I began playing hockey, so they were quite helpful too. Now, I just look forward to spending time with my family,” she said.

While the junior team awaits to receive a call-up to return to SAI centre, Suman is confident her team can bounce back after this setback in their preparations.

“There is a lot of openness in the team where we discuss our strengths and weaknesses and each of us have improved individually as well as a team over these past years. When we are called back, we will refocus on our goal to do well at the Junior Asia Cup,” she said.