The only way is up for star player

Thalea Smidt in action for Mamelodi Sundowns during her side’s 3-0 victory against Black Rhinos Queens, from Zimbabwe, CAF Women’s League/ Cosafa qualifier, in Durban, at the weekend.

Star soccer player Thalea Smidt, from Strandfontein, knows how to crack the books and play crack football.

Smidt, 23, is a member of the Mamelodi Sundowns’ squad that were crowned the inaugural winners of CAF Women’s League/ Cosafa qualifiers with a 3-0 victory against Black Rhinos Queens, from Zimbabwe, in Durban, at the weekend.

This has allowed Sundowns to book their spot in the Women’s Champions League, in Egypt, later this year.

Sundowns had dominated the competition throughout the group stages, scoring 22 goals in five matches and conceding one.

The cherry on top for Smidt was being named player of the match during the Brazillians group-stage clash against Swaziland’s Manzini Wanderers.

Referring to Saturday’s match against the Zimbabweans, she said: “It was one of the most important games for us this season because we knew that only one team is going to represent the whole of the Southern region at the CAF champions league. It was a must win game for us, and we wanted it badly. It wasn’t an easy game, there were stages in the game where our opponents really started coming at us, but props to the players for giving their all and fighting until the very end.”

The establishment of the lucrative National Women’s League earlier this year – a partnership between Safa and Hollywood Bets – set the stage for Smidt and other women to showcase their skill at the highest level, locally and on the continent.

A well-travelled player with stints at the University of Pretoria (TUKS), University of the Western Cape (UWC), Spurs WFC, Santos WFC and Strandfontein AFC, where it all began at the age of seven, Smidt, who joined Masandawana earlier this year, says it’s good that doors are opening for young players but that it’s tough at the top, mentally and physically.

“It is very competitive , the level of the game is higher and intensity higher. It requires a lot of hardwork and dedication. Mental toughness is also very important when it comes to playing at the highest level.That said, it is really a nice feeling knowing that you have the ability to play and compete on the highest level now not only in Southern Africa but Africa as a whole,” she said.

Introduced to the game at an early age, kicking ball was always a given as she comes from a sporty family, with her father Hermanus “Manie” Smidt having played well into his 40s, her younger sister Clio, 14, a member of the Rocklands-based Hotspurs and her brother Gershon, 25, working as a personal trainer.

Soccer runs in the family as her father’s cousin, Deon Smidt had spells with Woodlands United, Battswood, Strandfontein and Matroodfontein and was a member of the now-defunct Ajax Cape Town’s coaching staff.

“Thalea was always following me, crying to accompany me to the soccer field while still a baby,” said Smidt senior.

She started playing with the under-9 boys and the rest is history. My 14-year-old daughter, Clio, who only started playing two years ago competed for Hotspurs in the regional women’s league this year. I believe Hotspurs have a very good management and coaching setup and with the right support would be able to become a big contributor to the development of the women’s game in Mitchell’s Plain and regionally,” he said.

As expected, baby sis, Clio, hopes to follow in her big sister’s footsteps one day soon. “Honestly I’m so happy and proud of my sister,” she said.

“Two years ago, she didn’t even know if she’ll be able to play the same game again,” she said, referring to an injury scare her sister experienced while at Tuks. “But now, she’s a Cosafa champion and a CAF qualifier. This is one of her biggest achievements and I’m so happy.”

Meanwhile, Smidt, a BSc Biotechnology graduate with a BSc Hons in Plant Sciences and a Postgraduate Diplomas in Digital Innovation, has decided to put the books aside and concentrate on playing soccer.

“For now, my main focus is on Mamelodi Sundowns and the competitions we have ahead of us like the resumption of the Super League and the CAF champions league that will be hosted in Egypt. If I can get a move abroad which is obviously on my mind because every player wants to play at the highest level, I would love that,” she said.

While in no rush to swap her soccer jersey for a lab coat, Smidt’s academic background could one day lead to scoring goals in the science field.

“Currently I am also an entrepreneur with a startup company that focuses on agri-tech and look to continue growing this company, so who knows,” she said.

Thalea Smidt in the changeroom ahead of Sundown’s CAF Women’s League/ Cosafa final qualifier against Black Rhinos Queens