Alexa Pienaar hit the ball out of the court with a stellar season and was duly rewarded when named sportswoman of the year at the University of Johannesburg’s Sports Gala awards function recently.
The humble squash star, who racked up a long list of achievements, said the award she received at the Johannesburg Country Club was completely unexpected and undoubtedly one of her highlights of the year.
“I was awarded third place for sportswoman of the year last year, but I never expected to be awarded sportswoman of the year,” said Pienaar, who also received the student-athlete award for excelling in sport and academics.
“It has been a fantastic year and it is great for us athletes to get recognition for our efforts. We do not always realise that people do notice what we do so it is very rewarding getting an award of this nature.”
The third-year fine art student reached new heights when she was crowned University Sport South Africa champion while helping UJ to the overall title for the sixth year in a row in July.
She also made it into the SA National Championships and SA Open semi-finals, which took place in Johannesburg in June and July.
“I feel that this year has been my lucky year,” said Pienaar, who lives in residence at the university.
“I have been lucky enough to win the Hyundai Award (for up-and-coming squash stars) for 2017, which includes a full sponsorship with Hyundai, and now this. It is by far my best year in terms of achievements.”
The road to success had not been a smooth one, she said. Balancing her studies and squash was her greatest challenge and she admitted there had been many late nights.
“I spent my nights doing class work while spending as much time as I could on court. I just worked harder and kept pushing myself,” said the 23-year-old, who attended Outeniqua Primary in George and Menlo Park High in Pretoria.
“Our teachers encouraged us to do every sport that the school offered. I ended up playing socially for a few years, but it did not take me long to decide to ‘go for it’.
“From then I have trained on a daily basis and participated in almost every tournament that I could.”
Her achievements this year gave her belief that she could achieve her goal of qualifying for the senior national team for the next world team championships.
To achieve this, she would need to reach a top-four national ranking by the middle of next year.
“World champs have been a long-term goal and every year I have edged closer to reaching it.
“Even if I don’t necessarily reach it next year, I know I will be a few steps closer.”