She captained India to a bronze medal finish in the 2013 Women's Junior Hockey World Cup and veteran Sushila Chanu feels the Salima Tete-led side has the potential to go two steps further and claim a maiden gold in the edition that begins on Friday.
The Indian team will begin its campaign in Pool D against Wales on Saturday in Potchefstroom, South Africa before taking on formidable Germany on Sunday.
The Indians will then take on Malaysia in their final pool match before the quarterfinal round which starts on April 8.
"This is a really tight-knit group with excellent understanding between each other on the field, and off field as well. They have trained together as a group for a long time, and even played practice matches against the senior women's team in the national camp at SAI Bengaluru and Bhubaneswar in which they have contested well," Sushila said.
"The group also consists of players who have represented the senior team on the big stage like the Olympics. These reasons lead me to believe that the Indian junior team is a strong contender for the gold medal." Sushila was referring to the trio of skipper Tete, midfielder Sharmila Devi and striker Lalremsiami, who were part of the senior team that finished fourth at the Tokyo Olympics.
Halfback Sushila, one of the core group players in the Indian women's team, rose to prominence within the national setup following the bronze medal finish in 2013 in Monchengladbach, Germany.
"We had the time of our lives during that Junior World Cup campaign. We were so young and carefree at the time, but each one of us was completely focussed on using that competition as a platform to improve on our skills individually, and as a team," she recalled in Hockey India's podcast 'Hockey Te Charcha'.
"Our communication within the team was so strong at the time. It was one of the key reasons behind our success in the Junior World Cup.
"Winning that medal was the biggest achievement of my life. I will never forget that game and that moment when we secured victory.
The penalty shootouts were going on, and everyone in the team was huddled together in the centre of the pitch and we were all praying together. After winning the match that day, we were all overjoyed. That campaign was truly unforgettable."
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