Rourkela: While the Indian Women's Hockey Team are set to play their maiden international match at the majestic Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium today, it will be a homecoming for Rourkela girls Sunelita Toppo and Jyoti Chattri.
Speaking ahead of India's return FIH Pro League fixture against China, both Sunelita and Jyoti, who are graduates of Odisha's rich ecosystem, expressed their excitement at the prospect of playing in front of their family in Rourkela.
Sunelita, who honed her skills at SAI Sundargarh, represented Odisha in the National Games in Gujarat in 2022, after which she was picked for the Junior National Camp. She made her international debut at the Junior Women’s Asia Cup 2023 and quickly enhanced her reputation to get fast-tracked to the Senior Team set-up. The teenager represented India at the Junior World Cup in November 2023 and went on to make her senior team debut in the recently held FIH Pro League Bhubaneswar leg. She was also part of Odisha's Bronze medal win at the recently held 6th Khelo India Youth Games 2023.
"I had never imagined I'd get a chance to play at my home in front of my family. It's a special feeling and everyone at home is really happy and excited for the FIH Pro League matches in Rourkela. In fact, it will be the team's first match at the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium, so it makes it even sweeter. I'm very much looking forward to it," expressed the 16-year-old Sunelita.
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Jyoti, who started her journey from Panposh Sports Hostel, joined the Odisha Naval Tata Hockey High Performance Centre in 2020, after which she secured a spot in the Indian Junior Women’s Hockey Team. She went on to make her junior team and senior team debuts in 2023. After winning the Junior Asia Cup, she featured in the 2023 4 Nations Women's Invitational Tournament. She was part of India's silver medal win at the recently held FIH Hockey5s World Cup Oman 2024.
Jyoti, stated, "I've been waiting for this moment since last year, when the Men's Hockey World Cup was going on. It's a dream come true moment for me to be playing for my country, at home, in front of my family."
Commenting on Sunelita and Jyoti's homecoming, David John, Director of Hockey, Odisha, said, "Sunelita and Jyoti will be very excited and proud to play in front of their family, friends and teammates, especially at Birsa Munda Stadium which will be full house. While playing at home comes with high expectations and some pressure to perform, these three players will do the State proud."
He further added that Odisha, with a robust hockey infrastructure, will become a powerhouse in Indian hockey. "Having just won gold in the Boys and Bronze in girls hockey competition in the Malaysian International event and Khelo India Games in Chennai, the future of Odisha hockey is looking very bright. With up to 2500 young players training every day in Odisha Grassroot Training Centres, the next decade will see Odisha State become a powerhouse of Indian hockey," he concluded.