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'My seniors helped me clam my nerves': 16-year-old Sunelita Toppo after making India debut

Midfielder Senuelita Toppo, who hails from Sundergarh of Odisha, made her senior debut against China on February 3.

My seniors helped me clam my nerves: 16-year-old Sunelita Toppo after making India debut

Sunelita Toppo made her debut with the Indian women's team at the FIH Pro League on February 3. 


The Bridge Desk

Updated: 29 Feb 2024 1:15 PM GMT

Sunelita Toppo, who hails from Sundergarh, the hockey hotbed of Odisha, made her senior debut with the Indian women's team against China on February 3 in the FIH Pro League 2023-24.

The 16-year-old was drawn to hockey after watching the women from her village play the sport at a festival.

When she first played the sport, she made the ball rolling with a bamboo stick. But she did not take much time to make a mark with a professional hockey stick. At the 2022 National Games in Gujarat, she impressed.

Following this, she was selected for the junior Indian women's team. As the team claimed its maiden title in the Women’s Junior Asia Cup in 2023, Sunelita was called up to train with the senior team.

Recalling her feelings about playing her first game for the national team, Sunelita said, “Initially, I couldn’t believe that I had made the cut for the squad participating in the FIH Pro League in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela. When I found out that I would be playing my first game against China, nervousness washed over me.

"Until the first whistle, I kept thinking if I would do well in my first game for the national team. However, once the game began, I focused on the advice my seniors gave before the match, and it erased all my doubts," she added.

Her senior teammates helped her to stay calm.

“I spoke to Lalremsiami, Navneet Kaur, and Nikki Pradhan before the match to help calm me down. Vandana Katariya also reassured me that she would be around to help if things went wrong. On the way to the stadium, Savita advised me not to overthink, to play freely, and to enjoy this special occasion. These words really helped me calm my nerves and give my best on the pitch,” she added.

After making her debut in the 1-2 loss to China, Sunelita featured in matches against the Netherlands on February 4 and Australia on February 7, before facing China again on February 12 and the Netherlands on February 14 in Rourkela.

Speaking on her Pro League experience, the midfielder said, “Everyone was appreciative of my performance in the first match against China, and after the game against the Netherlands, the team encouraged me further, saying it was great that I am playing this well at a young age, that I have a thorough understanding of the game, and that I should continue enjoying on the pitch.”

“I want to continue playing this way. Everyone has been very supportive and I will work hard to capitalise on this moment and make a place for myself in the team. From the Pro League matches, I have realised that I need to concentrate on my decision-making around the shooting circle. Choosing the right option between passing, shooting or drawing penalty corners based on the situation will help my team and improve as a player,” Sunelita concluded.

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