THE Varsity Netball competition is the best thing to happen to the sport in South Africa in a long time, Proteas coach Elize Kotze says.
The country's eight top university teams will fight it out for supremacy over the next six weeks in an initiative not only designed to give South Africa's best players more competition, but also to bring potential stars to the fore.
The tournament will start at NMMU and the University of Pretoria this weekend, and will be contested by North West University (Pukke), Pretoria (Tuks), Stellenbosch (Maties), Free State (Kovsies), NMMU, University of Johannesburg (UJ), UCT and the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).
Each team will play seven round-robin games.
Thereafter, the top four will move on to the semifinals, while the bottom four will go into playoff matches to decide the lower positions.
"I am hugely excited about the Varsity competition," Kotze said.
"I think this is exactly what South African netball needs and is one of the best things to happen to our sport in ages.
"Stats show that the route to the highest level went through university football for as much as 80% of our national players.
"That speaks volumes of the high standard of play at university level."
Kotze and her Protea players left for England this week to take part in a three-match series against the world's No3 team.
This means the national players will miss the first weekend of the Varsity action, but they will be available for the rest of the competition.
"I absolutely feel they should play in the Varsity challenge after we return from England," Kotze said.
"This competition provides a platform on which our players can participate in high-intensity matches on a weekly basis, keeping the girls sharp."
The first weekend of competition will feature a total of 12 matches, with four each tomorrow, Sunday and Monday. All the Monday matches will be televised live on SuperSport.
The fixtures are:
Tomorrow, 2pm: UCT v Maties MTN NMMU Indoor Sport Centre (Missionvale); 3.30pm: NMMU v UJ (Missionvale
Sunday, 2pm: NMMU v Maties (Missionvale); 3.30pm: UJ v UCT (Missionvale)
Monday, 6pm: UJ v Maties Vodacom NMMU Indoor Sport Centre (South Campus); 7.30pm: NMMU v UCT (South Campus)