Behind the shy smile, Tarle Mathe hides a strong and determined diamond in the rough that is being polished in front of hundreds of thousands of South Africans.
The KwaZulu Natal star set the 2022 Telkom Netball League court ablaze with her performance which later saw her side with the title for the first time, after defeating long standing rivals, Gauteng Jaguars.
“It was a nice feeling to become the champions of the TNL,” she says.
However her stellar career didn’t start with the Gauteng Golden Fireballs, the teams in KwaZulu-Natal have to get the credit for the work they have put into the growth of the former Kingdom Queens star.
“When I was doing Grade 10, I was playing for the KZN schools team and we went to Boksburg for a national level tournament where we competed with teams from other provinces. When I played for Kingdom Queens, it was nice but at the same time, it was scary too because it was my first time playing in the TNL. Playing with experienced players was a bit difficult for me but my team mates didn’t show me that ‘you’re playing with older players,’ they made me feel like I was the same age as them. It was nice and it was not hard,” she says.
Her great contribution at Queens saw her getting roped into the other TNL team in the province, Kingdom Stars where she also spent a season before she moved to Johannesburg to further her studies at the University of Johannesburg where she plays under Proteas captain, Bongiwe Msomi.
Although she missed the last two matches for UJ due to injury, Mathe was an integral part of the team that reached the semifinals of the Varsity Netball tournament for the first time.
She has had a successful 2022 season, she was also part of the Johannesburg A side which was crowned the 2022 Spar National Netball Champions and was named Player of the Tournament.
She sealed the year with the Age Group Sportswoman of the Year Silver Medal at the UJ Sports Awards.
The support she has garnered from lovers of the sport over the last year welcomed her with a roaring cheer when she took to the court for the first time in the green and gold.
Even though she was quite nervous the day she saw her name on the starting seven, Msomi and Khanyisa Chawane sat her down and were able to calm her nerves.
She made her debut for South Africa in a 66-38 victory over Namibia. Her incredible performance saw her being named player of the match in her second game for the Proteas in which they demolished Tanzania 58-30 in the Africa Netball World Cup Qualifiers in August.
“I can say that there is no pressure because the senior players in the Proteas are the ones that back us up. When you get a chance to play, they tell you that they have your back and if you make a mistake they tell you ‘it is not the end of the world,’ they really have our backs. They don’t make us feel pressured,” she says.
Mathe hopes to inspire the next generation of players in her neighbourhood in Lamontville, Durban.
“I would like to stay in the Proteas for many years, as long as I can. By my house, there is a netball court and every time I come home I can see kids training. They sometimes stop when they see me and say they saw me on TV. It is a nice feeling, they keep me going. The young players look up to me. I think I inspire them, they even come to my house and say they would like to play like me and ask for my TNL clothes saying they want to play in the TNL too. Even the older people tell me to keep up the good work,” she says.
As a young girl, Mathe was always active and she followed her brother, Sanele to his boxing training sessions where she fell in love with that sport.
She thought she would someday become a professional boxer until she accepted an invitation from a friend to go play netball.
“I was doing boxing, but then my friend said we must go play netball together at school. I carried on playing and it was really fun. Then when I was doing Grade 8 that is where I really fell in love with netball because I was getting more game time. In my family, I have many brothers and they were all into boxing. When they would go to training I would follow them. I would follow them every day. When I watched them train, I said let me join them. That is how it started,” she remembers.
The sport has opened up the world to Mathe and she is determined to make use of every opportunity she gets to light up the court.
“Now I can say that netball made me realise that you must use every chance you get because not all of us are given a talent or a chance to play around the world,” she says.