The Haryana girls have enjoyed a dominating presence in the Hockey India National Junior Women Hockey Championships. The state junior women hockey team has annexed the national crown on five occasions – however, their latest national triumph in the 11th edition was significant simply because they had to settle for runners-up position in the last three previous nationals. At the 2019 edition held in Kollam, Kerala, Hockey Haryana had lost to Jharkhand 1-2 in the final – at the 2018 edition held in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, the girls from Haryana went down to the same opponents 2-4 in the final – they had lost 1-2 to Madhya Pradesh Hockey Academy in the 2017 edition also held at Bhopal.
The national title win of Hockey Haryana in the 11 edition held at Simdega, Jharkhand, was their first since they had humbled Hockey Punjab 4-0 in the final of the 2016 edition held at Ranchi. Understandably, the Haryana girls have become the team to beat in the domestic junior women hockey circuit. “Haryana has a strong team and our strength stems from our fantastic hockey infrastructure – there are as many as 11-12 astroturfs across the state in places like Hisar, Sirsa, Sonepat, Shahabad, Bhiwani, Gurgaon among others – Sonepat has three turfs while Sirsa has two turfs. Our team never believes in throwing in the towel. We were trailing twice first 0-1 and then 1-2 against Hockey Odisha in the quarterfinals but my girls fought hard to regroup and win the game 5-3. We again conceded first against Chandigarh in the semifinals but bounced back to beat them 3-2. The script was similar in the final where Hockey Jharkhand scored an early goal but we staged a comeback to win the final 3-2 in front of their home crowd,” gushes vastly experienced Haryana Junior Women Hockey Team coach Azad Singh Malik.
Malik, who has been associated with coaching the Haryana women’s hockey teams since 1995, was all praise for the way the 11th Hockey India National Junior Women Hockey Championships were organized. “Hockey Jharkhand along with the district administration deserves a lot of praise for the smooth conduct of the nationals. We were put up in the same premises where the venue was – the food was provided there, which meant we could focus on our game without the botheration of travelling too much. The organizers took very good care of us,” says the chief coach, who used to play as a midfielder for the state from 1977 to 1987.
Malik has trained the likes of current Indian women hockey team goalkeeper Savita Poonia as well as forward-turned-fullback Udita besides former Indian forward Poonam Rani Malik. “Savita was my trainee from 2005 – I have also coached Udita and Poonam – so happy that two of them were part of the Tokyo Olympics team that finished a highly creditable fourth.”
The veteran Haryana women hockey coach, who is employed with Haryana Agricultural University, singled out one of his fullback as a future prospect. “Our fullback Neelam is an exciting prospect – he scored 10 goals in the nationals – all of them from penalty corners. She has scored for us in crucial moments – pulling off a brace in the semifinals and the finals,” quips Malik, who runs the Hisar Hockey Academy in Hisar.
ROAD TO GLORY
|(Final) Hockey Jharkhand||3-2|
|(Semifinal) Hockey Chandigarh||3-2|
|(Quarterfinal) Hockey Odisha||5-3|