Seven years back at the New Hockey Stadium in Kollam (35th National Games in Kerala), Haryana hockey eves went down to Punjab 1-3 to finish runners-up. Fast-forward to October 2022, Haryana women’s hockey team exacted sweet revenge, sneaking past Punjab by a solitary goal to win the women’s hockey crown of the 36th National Games at the Dhyandchand Stadium in Rajkot. The Haryana eves, coached by former India player Meenakshi, were at their imperious best in the pool phase and maintained the same momentum in the business end of the tournament and left no one in doubt that it was the team to beat. The girls from Haryana scored 50 goals in the tournament and conceded just 4 goals.
Haryana started their campaign walloping hosts Gujarat 30-1, humbled Odisha 4-0 and Uttar Pradesh 6-1. The girls defeated Karnataka 5-0 in the quarterfinal, eased past Jharkhand 5-2 in the semifinal before accounting for Punjab in the summit clash. Packed with internationals such as Savita, Rani Rampal, Monica Malik, Navneet Kaur, Neha Goyal, Sharmila Devi, Sonika, and Udita, Haryana girls were overwhelming favourites going into the tournament. Punjab side also featured internationals such as Gurjit Kaur, former India goalkeeper Yogita Bali, Lalremsiami, Navjot Kaur, Baljeet Kaur, and Reena Khokkar.
The Haryana coach believes they should have won the final convincingly. “We missed a lot of scoring chances against Punjab in the final but that was because Punjab goalkeeper and former international Yogita Bali was outstanding. She was the reason why Haryana won 1-0 and not 3-0 or 4-0.
Understandably, Haryana women’s hockey team coach Meenakshi is on seventh heaven with the way her girls delivered in the 36th National Games. “Our team had as many as 12-13 India players and initially I was not sure if I will be able to handle them from the ‘acceptance’ point of view given that this was my first coaching stint. However, the girls really stood together, operated sincerely and made my job easy,” says the former India right-out in a chat with Hockey Passion.
Meenakshi, who played for India between 1998 and 2003 and represented Haryana from 1994-2003, attributed the national triumph to collective team effort. “Look, no one or two players can win you the national crown – all 17 girls contributed meaningfully towards our team cornering glory. Savita was outstanding in the goal and so was second-choice goalkeeper Swaty – we conceded just four goals in the tourney speaks volumes of our deep defence, especially the outstanding work of our goalkeepers. Our midfield and forwardline operated as a well-oiled unit,” she says matter-of-factly.
The 41-year-old former player also lavished praise on skipper Rani Rampal for leading from the front. “She led by example, scored in every match and rallied the team together and what more I can ask for,” she opines.
Meenakshi elaborates on Rani’s participation in the 36th National Games. “Initially there was an impression that Rani was going through rehab since she was out of international action. Our Haryana Sports Director spoke to her and asked if she was fit to play for Haryana and she communicated that she is match-ready. Her rich experience really helped our forwardline,” she quips.
The 36th National Games triumph would be indeed satisfying for Haryana as they lost in the semifinals of the 2022 Hockey India Senior Women Nationals to Karnataka at Bhopal.