Dream result for PE star

Bay player overcomes illness and other challenges to make SA squash team for world championships

When she underwent a serious kidney operation in February, Lizelle Muller had no idea that just five months later she would be celebrating the greatest moment in her squash career.
At the conclusion of the Kaplan Cup interprovincial in Pretoria earlier in July, the 33year-old Port Elizabeth player achieved the pinnacle of success by being chosen for the SA women’s team to compete in the world championships in Dalian, China, in September.
It has been a long journey for one of the most talented players Eastern Province have produced. Although Muller now turns out for SA Country Districts in the interprovincial, there is no doubt her game was honed through many hours of practising and playing at the Londt Park club in PE.
Muller becomes one of a handful of EP-based players who have represented SA, the last being Val Bridgens in the mid-1970s.
Prior to that, Angela Difford and Edith Allnutt received national colours in the 1960s.
What makes her selection particularly remarkable is that Muller achieved her dream of earning national colours by being only a part-time player, often competing against full-time professionals.
Reflecting on her year, she said she had first received an inkling of what might happen when an e-mail from Squash SA said she was being considered for the national squad.
“Then I finished third at the Nationals and I was asked to have a play-off match against Lume Landman,” Muller said. Muller won 3-0. Like Muller, Landman is from Port Elizabeth, where both attended Framesby High.
Landman and her twin sister, Elani, are competing internationally, with the latter also in the team to play in China.
“When I beat Lume in PE I had a feeling I might be selected. But it only became real when I heard my name being called at the final function at Kaplan. I got very emotional. It’s really a dream come true,” Muller said.
Given her position, holding down a job and with children Braydin, 4, and Liane, 20 months, to care for, she said it was not something she had been targeting.
“I wanted to do well this year and make the top six in SA. But because I’m much older than the top girls who play squash for a living, I never thought I would make it – being a mother and not being able to play all the tournaments.
“For me it was amazing to just receive the e-mail from Squash SA [in March] saying that I was being considered.”
After feeling in good condition at the start of 2018, Muller underwent an operation to remove a blockage in her kidney, which put her out for six weeks.
She said the biggest challenge had been to regain the mental strength to get back onto the court to commit herself to the physical training required to return to her best.
“Now I’m even stronger than I was before my operation. I’m very happy that I could even compete with all these full-time squash girls.
“In previous years, all I wanted was to, at least, just give them a run.”
From a fanatical squashplaying family – in 2012 she formed an EP first league team with her dad Anton van Niekerk and brothers Rudi and Dewald – Muller said she had always known she wanted to be a good squash player.
“After being selected to represent SA U19, and the tour never happening, and then being in a relationship, I lost that dream of being a professional.
“The young brain wasn’t thinking clearly,” she said with a rueful smile.
Despite winning a plethora of local tournaments, Muller said it was only in 2017 that she had started working to achieve a higher level.
“I really started training harder, wanting to do a little better at Kaplan, and focused on getting fitter and really understanding the game.”
While choosing her own path as a player, Muller paid tribute to her husband, Marius.
“He knew from the start how much I loved this game. He saw the potential in me and has been by my side, supporting me ever since.
“And then my coach, ex-SA player Greg la Mude, has been massive.
“In 2017, I started training with him again and that’s when my game started improving. He is an amazing coach and friend.
“But the biggest influence would be God – He gave me this talent and put the right people in my path to be able to fulfil my dream.”

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