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Carving a niche in a man’s game

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MASERU – For most people Sundays are reserved for church and are a day when people gather at their various places of worship to give praise, thanks and ask for blessings.
For Kick4Life football star Thato Sentje, however, Sundays were different.
Growing up, Sentje was always attracted to sports and instead of church, her Sundays were reserved for what she enjoyed the most – playing football.
Sentje would leave home early in the morning as if she was headed for church but her destination was the football ground where she played for a Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) women’s team that was known as Makanyane.

With parents who were hell-bent against football, Sentje felt there was no way she could disclose her real whereabouts.
As a child growing up, she always found herself in the company of boys playing football in the streets and it is no surprise years later that the 27-year-old has few friends outside football.

Sentje joined her first organised club in 2009 at the age of 16 as part of the original group of players that formed the Kick4Life Ladies team.
Along with ‘Maphoka Ramokoatsi, Remaketse Ramohomane and Nthona Ramphie, Sentje is one of a select core of players that still remain with

Kick4Life and have been through the club’s decade-long growth.
Today, Kick4Life Ladies is one of Lesotho’s foremost women’s teams having produced stars such as Boitumelo Rabale and Senate Letsie who are now both shining in the United States.

Kick4Life have also consistently challenged for the Women’s Super League title since the local top-flight for women’s football was formed in 2014.
Although they are yet to win the league, the Old Europa club have finished second in the league for the past two years behind Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and, as Sentje meets with thepost, she believes Kick4Life will soon get over the hump and be champions.

Sentje is dressed in her National team attire and has a bubbly personality.
She is living her dream and has come a long way from playing in the dusty streets.
“The main challenge for me growing up is that I was being judged that I love boys’ games too much and it didn’t sit well with me,” Sentje says.
“I was never close with the girls; I was close to the people I was playing football with, so I would go to the ground and then go back home.”

Today, Sentje is a regular member of Lesotho’s national women’s team, Mehalalitoe.
Currently, the side is training at Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena in preparation for a pair of friendly matches in Botswana on Saturday and Sunday.
Sentje specialises as a central defensive midfielder for Kick4Life but mostly plays centreback for the national team.

She says she loves playing anywhere, as long the coach demands it.
The versatile Sentje began as a striker before switching to defence and she says it was Kick4Life Ladies coach Puseletso Mokhosi who moved her into midfield.
That’s the position she has now played for the longest time and she says it is her favourite.

“I started as a striker at Kick4Life; I was changed to a centreback position when we were playing in the women’s lower division league before the Super League was formed,” Sentje explains.
“Puseletso Mokhosi arrived and she switched me to the midfield and I was the anchor, and that’s the position I am still playing at club level even now.

However, for the national team I play centre-half, I am a utility player. When were we are short somewhere I slot in a fullback position,” she adds.
“When you play at the back you are the last line of defence and any mistake could directly lead to a goal and one has to be switched on at all times, keep the shape and always be compact.”

Sentje is someone who never shies away from challenges and pressure. She never hides on the pitch and always wants the ball.
She says midfield, which she calls the engine of the team, is the perfect place for her. It is where she thrives because there is always pressure to perform and be on top of your game, Sentje explains.
“It’s a mind-set really,” she adds.

“When you are assigned a certain position it’s just a matter of you being switched on and playing your best football, it’s just that for us women you think about it too much.”
“It helps to be able to play in different positions because you may find that one of your teammates is struggling and if you play more than three positions I think you are fine.”

One of Sentje’s main aims this season is finally getting her hands on the Women’s Super League crown and Kick4Life are locked in an exciting league chase with LDF and FC Stoko.
“We are third now, we want to move up the table, whether we are going to be second or first we will see,” Sentje says.

“LDF is very strong, sometimes we lose focus. LDF trains every day and they are together all the time while for us it’s a mixture; some (players) are still at school and sometimes only a few turn up for training.”
That is in fact one of the main challenges facing women’s football.

Despite the Lesotho Football Association’s (LEFA) efforts to revive the women’s game, it still lags behind the men’s football in terms of following and financial support.

Sentje says the women’s game needs help from companies to help the flourishing talent around the country.
“We need support, we need sponsors for football to grow and be marketed and we also need media coverage,” Sentje says.
“If the media is there the people will know about (women’s football). In some places there are people who are still not aware of women’s football but it is through the media that they can know.”

Such a change would undoubtedly inspire more young girls to emulate Sentje whose dedication is an example to follow.
If Sentje is not playing, she can always be found at Kick4Life’s football centre where she coaches life skills for the club’s Girls United programme which tours schools and mentors youths between the ages of 13 and 19.

In a male dominated game, women are trying to find their feet.
Sentje says she encourages anyone who loves football to play the game and not fall for the stereotypes that come with women’s football.
She says one does not need to be of a certain sexual orientation to join and enjoy football. It is for everyone.

“Football is male dominated but I say to women: let’s play football, don’t be scared,” Sentje underlines.
“There are lesbians in football, it is true, but if you aren’t it doesn’t mean you can’t play; after all, your sexual orientation is your choice. There are straight women in football clubs. Some are married and they are enjoying themselves.

Tlalane Phahla

 

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Lifofane in dreamland

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Lifofane are enjoying their best top-flight season since winning promotion in 2019.

The Butha-Buthe side are seventh in the Vodacom Premier League after a four-match unbeaten run and a win over relegation-threatened Manonyane on Sunday could see them catapult into the top six and within touching distance of an improbable top four finish.

The roots of Lifofane’s success can partly be traced back to 2020 when they shocked the country by capturing the Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) Top 4 tournament.

The Buthe-Buthe outfit bagged M195 000 for winning the knockout competition in Matšonyane and that money has helped the upstart club progress.

Lifofane were able to buy training equipment and gear to improve their on-field product and, off the field, some money was saved to cover the team’s food and transport costs on away days.

Five years later and Lifofane are reaping the benefits of their prudent management.

Their management choices include the hiring of Katiso Mojakhomo as coach in March last year and his arrival has been a home run – Lifofane have developed into a disciplined, well-oiled machine this season.

Mojakhomo is one of Lesotho’s most successful coaches having won back-to-back league titles in 2007 and 2008 with the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) and his experience has allowed Lifofane to punch above their weight which was perfectly epitomised in their last two matches, a pair of 1-1 draws with Matlama and defending champions Bantu.

Both opponents were traditional giants desperately chasing the league title but Lifofane matched them blow for blow.

Mojakhomo said he is delighted with the improvement he has seen in his charges but there is still room to grow.

“It is our expectation to see the team at the top by the end of this Premier League season and we are going to work as hard as we can to make this happen,” he said.

Lifofane, of course, are not the league’s first surprise package.

Many clubs have had a good season or two before fading away.

Sundawana and Sky Battalion are just two teams over the past decade that have taken the elite league by storm for one campaign only to vanish from memory.

Mojakhomo said Lifofane’s vision extends beyond just doing well this season.

He said the club are determined not to allow their smaller stature to hinder their ambitions of establishing a long-term status in the premiership and competing with the big boys for seasons to come.

“There are many challenges that the team faces but we try to overcome them in as many ways as possible,” Mojakhomo said.

“The team’s management work together to come up with solutions.”

Moipone Makhoalinyane

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Seema wins top award

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Lesotho football legend Lehlohonolo Seema has praised his Sekhukhune United players after he was named Coach of The Month for February and March in South Africa’s DSTV Premiership.

It is the first time Seema has won the prestigious award in his coaching career and it rewards the impressive job he has done at Sekhukhune since joining the club in November from Polokwane City.

Sekhukhune United, or “Babina Noko”, are unbeaten over the last two months.

In the process, they have scored 11 goals and conceded just three times to shoot all the way up to fourth place in South Africa’s elite league.

Their unbeaten 2024 includes a five-match winning streak in which they beat Richards Bay 3-1 and Golden Arrows 1-0 in February and then dispatched Royal AM 1-0, Swallows 4-1 and Soweto giants Orlando Pirates 2-1 in March.

Seema told thepost he is delighted to receive the recognition, especially because it is his first time winning the award.

He also praised his players for their role in the team’s success.

His captain, Linda Mntambo, was named the DSTV Premiership player of the month and it is the first time a player and a coach from Sekhukhune United win the award.

“This recognition is the first-ever recognition in my life and for ‘Babina Noko’,” Seema said.

“I honour my players a great deal because, without them, I would not have been recognised. Their effort and passion has brought us this far.”

Seema said it is not easy coaching in the pressure cooker that is South Africa’s top-flight but his side have managed to navigate through the challenges they have encountered.

“The pressure in the DSTV Premiership is real. Every team is fighting but what helps me and the team is taking it one game at a time,” Seema said.

The highlight of Sekhukhune’s run over the past two months was their stunning 2-1 win on March 30 over Orlando Pirates, a side Seema captained during his playing days, which must have made that particular victory all the more sweeter.

The former Likuena captain said beating big teams like Orlando Pirates is not an easy assignment and Sekhukhune United’s victory showed him that the team was growing.

Now, Seema is gunning for nothing less than a top four finish at the end of the season.

A first-ever CAF Champions League spot for Sekhukhune United is also possible.

Finishing in the DSTV Premiership’s top two spots earns a coveted ticket to Africa’s premier club competition and Seema’s side are four points behind second-placed Stellenbosch with eight games to go.

Sekhukhune United’s next opponents?

Stellenbosch, at home, next Wednesday.

“Now we have to prepare well, more than before,” Seema said.

“Our schedule for the next games is very tight. If we will be playing against Stellenbosch on the 17th (of April) and on the 20th we are playing again against Cape Town Spurs, two days will not be enough – we have to start now to prepare for both games,’ he said.

Seema said his appreciation also goes to Sekhukhune United’s supporters.

“Their presence lifts us to win.”

Relebohile Tšepe

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Linare players set for windfall

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Linare players are dreaming of walking away with M330 000 at the end of the season by snatching second place in the Vodacom Premier League.
‘Tse Tala’ have won five of their last six matches and are the hottest team in the top-flight right now.

Linare are unbeaten in the league since February 10 and no team has collected more points than the 16 the Hlotse side have amassed in that period.

Their fine form continued on Sunday with a 2-0 win over Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and now Linare’s players want second place, at least.

Linare are fourth in the Vodacom Premier League with 43 points from 24 games, 11 points behind second-placed Matlama with six games to go.

It is a longshot to crack the top two, but ‘Tse Tala’ believe they can do it and midfielders Tšepang Sefali and Tšepo Makhanya said they have not given up hope of even stealing the league title.

“We would be so grateful if we can reach second place but if (league leaders) Lioli lose three or four games, we will have the opportunity to be the champions,” Sefali said.

Linare’s confidence is soaring high because they don’t know what a loss feels like since Bob Mafoso took over in early February.

Their only defeat came last month in the People’s Cup semi-finals against Matlama and that was on penalties.

Mafoso took over after Leslie Notši’s departure in January and Sefali and Makhanya said they have felt the difference.

Linare finished second in the Vodacom Premiership last season under Notši, an impressive feat, but they had dropped to seventh place by the time he departed.

With a top four finish slipping away, Linare found a new spring in their step when Mafoso arrived and Sefali said they hit the ground running because they knew what their new coach demanded and expected of his players.

“Almost all the players in the team have met and faced (Mafoso) before (when he was coaching other teams) and they all understand his strategies and techniques,” Sefali said.

“Our players already knew what he wants from the players, so we do not want to waste any time but do exactly (what Mafoso wants),” he said.

“Yes, coach Leslie Notši did a good job and we appreciated his effort but now we are seeing what we expected in the league because of the presence of (Mafoso),” Makhanya said.

Sefali said the competition for places has skyrocketed over the past two months and that is pushing every player to work hard and fight to play every match.

“There is too much competition; everyone wants to prove his talent to coach. Everyone wants to play every game but I am happy that our coach gives every player a chance to play which makes the team improve,” Sefali said.

“Even though we have not had much time with (Mafoso), his presence has brought a positive impact on the team,” he added. “I believe going forward; we will do more than what we are doing. I believe it is not early to praise him.”

Makhanya said one of the keys has been the togetherness Mafoso has brought to the team and they are confident to say they will stay in the top four and even finish the Vodacom Premier League season in second place.

A top four finish would be real progress for ‘Tse Tala’ because they have not had consecutive top four finishes since 2004, mainly because Linare have been consistently inconsistent from year to year.

Mafoso told thepost on Monday that very experienced coaches mentored the team before his arrival. He said his predecessors, Notši and South African guru Teboho Moloi, did a lot of good work so the reception of the players has made his job easier.

“I would like to appreciate the reception they gave me,” Mafoso said.

“Every team is good because of the players it has, so I accepted the assignment (to coach Linare) because of the quality that I believed the team could have. It is a long process that is at its start, but we are happy with how we are growing,” he said.

Mafoso said Linare are ready to win as many games as they can to finish the season on a high note.

“The dedication and attitude of the players satisfies me a lot, it is why we are doing well,” Mafoso said.

Relebohile Tšepe

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