THE BIG INTERVIEW: On top of her game
The captain of the South African women's hockey team groggily answered her phone early yesterday morning. I apologised for waking her up.
"No, no. I'm recovering from the flu," said Rotterdam-based Marsha Marescia, explaining her voice.
It's hard to believe she's been sick - Marescia and her team beat India 3-1 on Saturday to qualify for the Olympic Games in London.
She wasn't the only ill player. A flu virus spread through her team making a few of the hockey players sick on the day of their final match.
"It was Bernadette's [Coston] first major tournament and she couldn't even get out of bed," Marescia said.
Kathleen Taylor had to be dosed with flu medication to get on the field.
Since October last year, when they knew they would be competing to qualify, the team has been practising intensely.
In theory, they had already qualified during the Pan-African games, but the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee SA did not feel the continent's tournament was good enough. Rather unusually, the team had to find another way to qualify - a tournament in India.
Despite illness, on Saturday they did just that, which Marescia said was due to the players' dedication and commitment.
"Our team was well-prepared for the event and deserved to win. I feel extremely excited about the Olympics," she said.
A number of the South African players are based in the Netherlands, or close enough to the European country, so they could practise their 25 hours a week before the tournament. Over the last 18 months, they have played about 100 international matches, which has improved the team's game.
They have much more experience and the competitiveness of playing internationally is good for them, explained Les Galloway, the team's manager.
Galloway described Marescia as a legend: "Marescia has the most caps of any South African sportsperson - she has played 281 international games for South Africa."
It's a surprise then that we haven't heard more about her.
Marescia, 29, a midfielder and a player for the Rotterdam Hockey Club, has been the captain of the hockey team since 2006. She has played hockey since the age of six.
"You can say I was raised on the hockey field. My mother [Marian] was a hockey player and coaches the game too. She has been my inspiration," she said.
Describing her leadership style, she said, "You have to understand your team and each player's needs. I've played with most of my teammates for a long time. We have high expectations of each other. We all know where we stand on this."
Even though she's played with players like Pietie Coetzee for a while, she said there are very strong youngsters in the team and mentioned Bertie Chamberlain, Sanette Damiens, and Lauren Penny.
Marescia loves the game mostly for the friendships she's formed.
"You make friends for life. The players are like my extended family now," she said.
She also credits her game for the opportunities she's had: "I've got bursaries. I've travelled. I've met people. But it's the friendships I've made I've mostly enjoyed."
When Marescia is not playing hockey, if she's in her home city, Johannesburg, she likes to hang out with her friends and family.
"I see so little of them when I'm playing for Rotterdam. When I'm there and not playing, I study. I'm trying to finish my degree through Unisa," she said.
The South African women's hockey team has come a long way. Much of the credit for this is given to Marescia, Player of the Tournament in Delhi.