~The 16-year-old made her senior debut against China on 3rd February~

New Delhi, 29th February 2024: Sundergarh, the hockey hotbed in Odisha, has produced another fabulous player named Sunelita Toppo. The 16-year-old made her debut for the Indian Women’s Hockey Team on 3rd February against China in the FIH Hockey Pro League 2023/24.

Sunelita was drawn to hockey after watching the women from her village play hockey at a festival. She started playing hockey with bamboo sticks, but it wasn’t long before she made her mark in the 2022 National Games in Gujarat. Following this, she was selected for the Junior Indian Women’s Hockey 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 emotions before 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 Hockey Pro League 2023/24 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.”

“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 4th February and Australia on 7th February, before facing China again on 12th February and the Netherlands on 14th February in Rourkela.

Speaking on her Pro League experience, the explosive 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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