On a fast track to oval ball glory
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Until a few months ago she never touched a rugby ball. Now she is determined to help the South Africa Women’s Sevens team reach the 2020 Olympic Games.
He name is Alyssa Conley – a 200-metre athlete, who won a silver medal at the 2016 African Championship and who represented South Africa at the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.
However, this year she announced that she will swap her spikes for rugby boots.
Her bold move from the track to Sevens rugby at the age of 28, just proved how determined Conley is to challenge the perception of women in sport.
“Being a woman in sport in South Africa is a mission,” Conley told rugby365com.
“We don’t get as much support as the guys, we have limited resources, so we can’t train as hard.
She added: “It’s always a challenge, we basically have to allow our passion and dreams to overcome the obstacles – which we are doing really well.
“I think my transition from track to Sevens was also aided by wanting to be an advocate for women in sport, showing them, we can do anything.
“If you look at the sports landscape [South Africa’s International] netball and soccer teams have done well, so I’m hoping to be part of a team that can also do well so that the world can recognise us,”
So far, the South African Women’s team, unlike their male counterparts, have not been one of the powerhouses when it comes to Sevens.
Instead, the World Sevens series has been dominated by New Zealand, while the likes of USA, Canada, Australia, France and England are just some of the other countries who excel.
Nonetheless, since the end of last year, South Africa has been hard at work trying to combat their below-par state. They have been in a rebuilding phase with one ultimate objective – qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Japan.
Head coach Paul Delport, along with conditioning coach Tim Qumbu, is busy recruiting players, like Conley, from other sports codes to pursue the side’s goal of winning the Africa Women’s Sevens in October – which will secure them a spot at the 2020 Olympics.
Conley, having been a sprinter for two decades and winning a few titles, could be a very good addition to the team who have been lacking pace.
However, before she dons the green and gold jersey, she has a commanding to-do list – which includes learning how to tackle, take hits and most importantly learn the laws of the game.
“The decision to join the Sevens side was not easy. The coach, Delport, approached me. At first, I wasn’t interested but then I decided I need to go for new challenges that I’ve never tried before.
“I started the transition four months ago, so it’s completely new to me. I’ve never touched a rugby ball before, so having to come into a strange environment and having to learn new skills are some of the major challenges. But my teammates have really embraced me. Whenever I seek advice, they are always eager to assist and help me.
“However with the BlitzBoks Women based in Stellenbosch and myself being here alone in Johannesburg, I have received assistance from the ShadowBall Academy as well.
“I have given myself a short amount of time to learn accurate passing and catching skills and the ShadowBall team have been happy to assist. The ShadowBall is a half a rugby ball that enables a player to rapidly upskill on their own playing against a wall and in addition, the Academy has helped me develop different movement skills that have helped me grow my game,”
When asked what her plans are post-Olympics, Conley said: “For now my main goal is to make the squad that plays the qualifier at the end of October in Tunisia and then work hard to be in the Olympics squad come 2020,”
By Leezil Hendricks