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Motlojoa: Lesotho’s brightest tennis star



Maseru – Kukutla Motlojoa is one with the tennis racquet, his playing style both smooth and commanding.
Perhaps this prowess shouldn’t be a surprise.
At 19, Motlojoa has already been playing the game for nearly 15 years and, as he speaks, his passion for tennis is abundantly clear.
This dedication to his craft has made Motlojoa one of Lesotho’s brightest young sporting talents. Today he is based in the United States, on the next leg of a long journey he hopes will eventually lead him to the professional ranks.

“I started playing tennis at four years old,” Motjojoa says as thepost meets him during his break back home.
“My father was a tennis player; he taught me tennis at the age of four,” he adds.

“I used to go to the tennis court with him and that is when I started playing tennis. It was before I had knowledge of anything else, before I could say I want to play football or any other sport code. I grew up in the environment of tennis. I started slowly and now I have almost 15 years playing tennis.”
So far the fruits of this long labour are good.

In 2014, Motlojoa won a scholarship through Grey College in South Africa to go to the United States and study at the New Mexico Military Institute, an experience he describes as life-changing. There Motlojoa is among a community of hopefuls from around the globe that are privy to the best tennis coaching and facilities. “Playing internationally is nice, I like it,” he says.

“I enjoy playing with different people, not only that, but one gets a chance to make friends and talk to them. They explain to you how they play tennis in their different countries and you learn. Those things that you find helpful you take them and implement them into your game. But, the big issue is to make friends. Yes, when we play on the court we are all serious because we want to win but after that we are friends no matter what,” he continues.
Motlojoa’s new surroundings are a far cry from the struggles he faced when young.

Born on January 6, 1998 in Haramokhele, Mafeteng, Motlojoa studied at Community Centre Primary School in Berea where the closest tennis facilities were the national courts all the way in Maseru.

The firstborn of Retšelisitsoe and ‘Mamokete Motlojoa, he would make the trek with his young brother, Nyathi, and their father would coach them in often demanding one-on-one sessions. “I used to go to the Lesotho Lawn Tennis Association courts with my brother and practice with him while our father was watching,” he says. “I practiced with my younger brother a lot.”

When Motlojoa moved to Ladybrand High School in 2011, making it easier for him to play tennis was at the heart of the decision.
“I went to Ladybrand so that I wouldn’t miss school,” he explains. “Here in Lesotho, when schools were closed there were no tournaments; there would only be tournaments when schools were open. In South Africa there were tournaments during the holidays when schools were closed.”
2011 is the same year Motlojoa began competing on the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) African junior circuit.

It was during this time, amid endless hours of training and watching favoured players such as Rafael Nadal, that his game was moulded.
Motlojoa played at the U18 Mauritius Open in 2011 and the African Junior Championships in Egypt in January 2012. He was chosen for the junior World Championships in Qatar in April 2012 after his displays in Egypt and again competed at the African Champs later in the year in Namibia.
During those early years on the ITF circuit, the dedication of Motlojoa’s family helped overcome several challenges the youngster faced.
“Going out to international tournaments was very challenging because it required support financially but, thankfully, I had a father who managed to help me in those challenges,” he says.

“It doesn’t mean that he could do everything but he did the best he could to help me. There were challenges with equipment, facilities and many other things but the main problem was participating and competing in tournaments.”
In 2014 Motlojoa moved to Grey College in Bloemfontein.

By now he was ranked fifth in Africa in junior doubles. He competed at the 2014 African Junior Championships 2014 in Kenya and won bronze in the doubles at the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 Under-20 Games in Zimbabwe in December 2014.

His performances led to his qualification for the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa and won admirers far and wide.
“A girls coach at New Mexico Military Institute named Dan O’Connell, who had lived in Lesotho for 15 years, needed players,” Motlojoa says.
“I was recommended to him by the ITF development officer in South Africa, and then he started negotiating with my father. That’s how I ended up getting the scholarship to go to the US.”

Upon his arrival in the United States in 2016, Motlojoa immediately had the chance to meet his role models, Spain’s 15-time Grand Slam winner Nadal and eccentric Frenchman Gael Monfils.
“I had always been watching them on screen, but seeing them live, shaking hands with them and also getting an autograph from Gael Monfils was true happiness to me,” he beams.

Inspiration is indeed much easier to meet in the United States where the professional ATP Tour, with all its top stars such as Nadal, Monfils, Andy Murray and others, frequently visits.

“I have had a chance to play with highly experienced players and that has taught me to improve my game-play and work hard because those people are serious with this sport,” Motlojoa says of his time so far at the New Mexico Military Institute.
“The most important issue is fitness and the way they hit the ball. We can all hit the ball but the point is what you do with the ball,” he continues.
“What is your game plan? The one who wins is the one who is able to capitalise where necessary and those minor things are the crucial things that we have to take into consideration.”

It is clear his international exposure has played a major role in Motlojoa’s development as a tennis player.
“I observe how people react in different situations. I play at the baseline while most people like to play close to the net so I always try to learn,” he adds.

Motlojoa’s big dream, of course, is to turn professional and someday compete on the ATP Tour against his idols.
“I am now at school, I am playing for the college (New Mexico Military Institute) after which I will go to university to get a degree,” Motlojoa says.
“The whole process is something that is going to take me more like three to four years to complete, then after that I will look to play on the professional level. I am intending to go professional but there is a long way ahead of that,” he continues.
Indeed, the immediate future has more junior competitions on the horizon.

From July 5 to 10 Motlojoa will be at the KZN TSA Series in Durban before jetting off to compete at the Botswana Open from July 17 to 24.
It is probably a taste of the busy schedule that will one day come. Motlojoa, certainly, has the world at his hands – his tennis racquet to be more exact.

Mohloai Mpesi

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Mohlolo rescues point for LDF Ladies



A last-gasp strike by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Ladies striker ‘Maseriti Mohlolo rescued a point for the Women’s Super League (WSL) champions against Malawi’s Ntopwa in the opener of their CAF Women’s Champions League COSAFA Qualifiers yesterday.

Mohlolo’s goal keeps LDF Ladies in contention to progress to the next round with two teams from the four-team group set to qualify for the semi-finals.

Although LDF Ladies were not outplayed in the game, they missed many chances and their set-pieces left a lot to be desired.
Maybe that can be attributed to a last minute coaching change that saw Pule Khojane replace Lengana Nkhethoa as head coach of a side that won the WSL unbeaten last season.

Speaking after the game, Khojane said even though he realised early on that the Malawian team were tough physically, he still wanted LDF Ladies to play their normal passing game.
In the end, Khojane was left to lament the number of chances his side created but couldn’t convert.
Khojane said that will be a point of emphasis before LDF Ladies step onto the field again tomorrow against Botswana’s Double Action.
Tomorrow’s tie is probably a must-win with the group’s other team being defending champions Green Buffaloes of Zambia and LDF Ladies will need to convert their chances.

“We play with four at the back but with two attacking full backs, most of the time if a team plays long balls like (Ntopwa) we struggle a lot but we don’t change our game. We want to play; we want to go forward.
“That’s why sometimes we made a lot of mistakes when the ball was played high behind our backs but we still wanted to play our game and win. We were just unfortunate not to score more goals but we were playing (well),” Khojane said.

LDF conceded a late goal in the first half and were perhaps lucky to go into the half time break just a goal down.
Before Ntopwa took the lead they were awarded a penalty for a reckless foul in the box but they missed the chance to open the scoring.
LDF recovered in the second that but could not find a way into the goals.

It looked as if Lesotho’s representatives at the regional showpiece would begin their campaign with a defeat. However, Mohlolo rescued the Lesotho champions when she latched onto a poor back pass from a defender. She stole the ball and levelled matters with less than three minutes to go.
There was no time for the LDF to get a winner and they had to settle for a point in their opening group game.
They will now be looking to improve and sharpen their scoring boots for tomorrow’s showdown against Double Action of Botswana.

LDF Ladies fixtures:
August 30
LDF Ladies 1-1 Ntopwa
Double Action vs. LDF Ladies
Green Buffaloes vs. LDF Ladies

Tlalane Phahla

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Makepe quits Likuena duty



Likuena captain Basia Makepe has retired from international football after leading the senior national team to silver at the recent COSAFA Cup tournament held in Durban, South Africa.
This was the first time since 2000 that Likuena had reached the final of the regional tournament where they lost 1-0 to Zambia.

The Leribe born defender will go down as one of the most decorated defenders in the country having represented his country 87 times and winning several accolades in the process.

Makepe’s leadership skills were spotted from a young age, where he was appointed captain of the national U-20 team, Makoanyane XI by Leslie Notši.
He led by example as Makoanyane XI qualified for the CAF Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in 2011, which in those days was knowns as the African Youth Championship, where the side eliminated countries like Mozambique, South Africa and Kenya to qualify for the tournament.

Makepe won his first Likuena cap in a 2-1 victory over Eswatini during an international friendly match played at Setsoto Stadium in October 2012 and went on to make the squad for the 2013 COSAFA Cup in Zambia.
However, Makepe was an unused substitute at the tournament as Notši went for the tried and tested defenders such as Moitheri Ntobo, Tlali Maile and Thabo Masualle as Likuena reached the semi-finals.

He would later be appointed the Likuena captain as coach Moses Maliehe went for a younger generation at the 2016 COSAFA Cup in Namibia, where Likuena won all their group stage matches but were eliminated in the quarterfinals by the Shakes Mashaba-coached Bafana Bafana.
Makepe has not only enjoyed success with the national team but won several domestic trophies at Lioli, where he was also handed the captaincy after joining from boyhood club and now defunct Joy FC.

After leaving Lioli, he joined the police outfit, LMPS FC, where he is employed as a police officer and believes he still has a few years left in his tank playing for Simunye, as the police outfit is affectionately known.

“I think I have had a career that you can say was decent and can be accepted as satisfying to the football fraternity,” Makepe said.

“For me I can say it was a good career that has had challenges here and there as well as successes here and there, which started way back with the Under-20 team.

“With Makoanyane XI, we became the second team to qualify for the Africa Youth Championship and fortunately I had the honour of being the captain of that team.”

The 32-year-old, who has come up against the best forwards on the continent from the young Mohamed Salah during the 2011 Under-20 Africa Youth Championship to the likes of Victor Osimhen, Riyad Mahrez, has singled out former Burkina Faso striker Jonathan Pitroipa as the most troublesome opponent he has faced.

“I have come up against the best from this continent from the likes of Salah and others, but I think Pitroipa of Burkina Faso was the most troublesome forward I have come up against,” he said.

“I think the successes with the senior team especially as the captain are many having reached the COSAFA semi-finals a number of times with Likuena and twice going unbeaten in the group stage in Zambia 2013 and Namibia 2016 respectively.

“Being the captain of the team was the cherry on top and getting bronze medal in 2018. I end my chapter with Likuena having played a role in helping the team get to the final for the first time in 23 years,” he said.

Makepe admitted that the 2016 edition of the COSAFA tournament was very special for him as it was the first he captained the side and they won all their group stage matches.

“The COSAFA tournament in Namibia in 2016 stands out for me especially that game against South Africa, which unfortunately we lost on penalties, but it was a good tournament overall,” he said.

“All in all, I think it was a very satisfying career with the national team though you always want more as a player. I’m happy to bow out having helped Likuena re-write history. It’s a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.

“I’m very grateful to all who have supported me throughout my career, my teammates, coaches, administrators and the supporters, who were always by our side and of course the Lesotho Football Association for giving me the opportunities to lead the national team,” he said.

Mikia Kalati

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Notši picks squad for Ivory Coast tie



Lesotho interim coach Leslie Notši has named a provisional 27-man squad for the side’s final 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier against Ivory Coast which is scheduled for September 9.
By virtue of being the hosts of next year’s showpiece, Ivory Coast have already qualified for the tournament while Likuena no longer have a chance of joining them after back-to-back defeats with Zambia in June.

With nothing to play with but pride, Likuena can draw inspiration from their performance when the sides met in their first Group H encounter last June which ended in a goalless draw.
The match was played in Soweto and Lesotho’s memorably dogged display against their much more fancied opponents is something Notši’s charges can look to for inspiration.

Several new faces could feature in that return game in Ivory Coast.
Fresh off last month’s COSAFA Cup final display, Notši has called up some fresh blood to bolster the squad such as Khubetsoana Kamela, Tšeliso Botsane and Teboho Letsema who have each represented Lesotho’s junior teams but are yet to make the leap to the senior side.

Notši’s squad also includes the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) trio of Morena Moloi, Lebesa Lebesa and Victor Ferreira who have been called up to the national team set-up for the first time in their careers.
The most surprising inclusion is perhaps that of Ferreira who spent the majority of last season making cameo appearances from the LDF substitutes’ bench.

Speaking with LEFA’s media team, Notši said the new faces are intended to give him depth going into the 2024 African Nations Championships (CHAN) qualifiers which start in September and are reserved only for locally based players.
It means the handful of Likuena players plying their trade outside the country will be ineligible to play. The first round of the 2024 CHAN qualifiers is set to begin from September 22 to 24.

“We all know that AFCON qualification is out of our reach and the bigger picture is to prepare the team for the CHAN qualifiers, which are coming very soon,” Notši said.
“Most of these boys have come through the ranks playing for our junior national team and it’s the association’s investment that needs to be given a chance to grow,” the Lesotho mentor added.

The 27-man Likuena squad will be trimmed down to a manageable size towards the side’s departure to Ivory Coast, but the core of the players that went to the COSAFA Cup in July are expected to retain their places in the team.
Likuena have a busy schedule ahead with the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers also in the pipeline this year. Notši needs to have as strong a team as possible to compete in all the competitions.

Likuena provisional squad:
Sekhoane Moerane, Teboho Ratibisi, Mosoeu Seahlolo.
Rethabile Senkoto, Motlomelo Mkhwanazi, Mohlomi Makhetha, Rethabile Mokokoane, Rethabile Rasethuntša, Lebesa Lebesa, ‘Mellere Lebetša.
Lisema Lebokollane, Khubetsoana Kamele, Tšeliso Botsane, Lehlohonolo Fothoane, Thabo Lesaoana, Tumelo Makha, Koenehelo Mothala, Tšepang Sefali, Victor Ferreira, Tshwarelo Bereng, Teboho Letsema, Neo Mokhachance, Tšepo Toloane, Morena Moloi.
Thabiso Mari, Jane Thabantšo, Motebang Sera, Katleho Makateng.

Tlalane Phahla

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