KUCHING: During last week’s Sarawak school championship, two players stood out from the rest.
They were the winners of the Best Players Award in the boys and girls U18 category.
For girls’ Best Player Award winner, it was an easy choice to select SMK Paku’s Elizabeth Epui Martin as she stood out with her superb performance.
In the boys Best Player selection process, there was likely some debate before Kuching’s M Haziq Asyraaf Berahim was given the nod.
He is a former St Thomas student who was selected to continue his development at the Sabah Sports School (SSS).
There were four other boys from SSS playing in the tournament.
Besides Haziq, Kuching also fielded former Thomian Clement Tsai and Ben Bradley while Sibu had Aiman Iryani Kamaluddin and Jallister West Ranggie.
Paku’s Elizabeth and the SSS boys are some of the future faces of Sarawak hockey.
Elizabeth was the only Sarawakian to play for Malaysia in the Youth Olympics qualifying tournament in Thailand.
The 17-year-old is originally from Sebauh, Bintulu and was transferred to Paku, the defacto hockey school in Sarawak.
“I played well but I think I could have played better,” said the midfielder, who scored more than eight goals including a brace in the final.
She said the Thailand tourney, where she scored four times, helped boost her performance.
“It really gave me more confidence. It also gave me the courage to play in a more attacking manner,” said Elizabeth.
Not only that, the Thai tourney helped improve her skills in one-on-one situations.
She looks likely to follow a long line of Sarawak women players who have impacted at the national team level.
Boys’ Best Player Haziq was pleased to be given the chance to play for Kuching.
“It was great to be able to come back to play for Kuching,” said Haziq. “I really did not think I would win this award. It is a real honour,” said Haziq.
It is no secret that Sarawak’s standard is well below those of the peninsula teams.
The SSS boys are the products of the 1MAS and SHA development programme.
When SMK Paku’s Astroturf pitch was built, it was thought that the school would be designated an official project school.
Unfortunately, the process has become stalled.
It is one reason Haziq and co. were shipped to Sabah.
“From what they showed at the Sarawak school championship, I think we made the right choice,” said SHA secretary Kangot Awan.
Kangot’s predecessor William Lee once called them one of the key to raising Sarawak’s standard.
“Once they finish their development at Sabah, they will be key players for Sarawak in the future,” said Lee.
The obvious caveat is that they have to have constant exposure to top-level tournaments.
They are expected to be crucial teammates of Dangerous Lee Matthews, the former Malaysian international and SMK Penrissen alumni.
The 20-something Dangerous played in the Myanmar SEA Games.
He is now a coach with the Sarawak State Sports Council and a regular figure in Kuching tournaments.