By Choo Shuen Ming (16A01E), and Olivia Tan (16A01E)
photos by Choo Shuen Ming (16A01E), and Raffles Photography Society
May 15 saw our Basketball Girls playing a decisive match against National Junior College in their (successful!) quest for third place. The team had fought hard on their way to the finals, facing formidable opponents, such as Hwa Chong Institution in their semifinals. During the intense match, #4 Bernice drew first blood with a clean shot that was met with cheers by the Rafflesians watching. Throughout the first quarter against Hwa Chong Institution, the adept team managed to stay ahead of their opponents with a score of 24-16, leading by an impressive 8-point difference.
Together with Captain #12 Woon Wei Jing keeping the team together with a spark of her own, the girls managed to press on with extraordinary three-pointers at the most unexpected moments of pressure. Both spectators and players could feel the intensity of the atmosphere during the third and fourth quarter, it wasn’t a surprise that both sides made a couple of slip-ups in the passes. We changed our line-up periodically to break the flow of Hwa Chong’s play, as #4 Bernice substituted #9 Charmaine, and #9 Charmaine later subbing #12 Wei Jing. Time-outs were called at the most burning moments with the coaches on each side rattling out strategy by strategy, raising their voices at times to get their points across with fierce sternness.
Despite making efforts to resist the mental and physical pressures on them, the girls experienced severe cramps nearing the buzzer, rendering them immobile with pain. It was also unfortunate that out of the eight players that played that day, at least four were fouled or injured. But in the end, it was a moving to watch how each and every one of them got up, stood strong, played on — against pain or pressure, they never once gave up.
There were moments when the Rafflesian crowd was slightly miffed, especially when the referee called travelling and pushing; despite protests and the incredulous looks on the team’s faces. With Hwa Chong narrowing the point gap in the game’s last few minutes, tensions climaxed, pressuring both sides’ coaches to call a timeout whenever the opponent had control. The court had an air of cutting distress during overtime, with each side searching desperately for an edge over their opponents. But throughout the process, several accidental fouls were made under pressure—resulting in a constant exchange of free throws. As expected, making two clean shots under such intimidating circumstances with all eyes on you (including the ticking time) is not an easy feat. However, the team’s #10 Lim Jie En who was subbed in at the crucial time managed to make both shots to the roaring cheers of the crowd, upping the team’s morale by a notch.
If anything at all, it was their teammates’ injuries that caused the most mental pain for each player. #4 Bernice Yeo crashed to the ground with a serious cramp that ran from her toes to her thighs, refusing to subside despite efforts to apply muscle sprays. However, Bernice was not the first to experience the cramps. Due to muscle fatigue from high intensity workout, several of Bernice’s teammates experienced similar pains—yet it was apparent that her cramps were of much higher severity. The girl’s coach, concerned and anxious, went onto the court to carry Bernice on her back to the bench, calling for timeout. It was indeed heart wrenching to see a fellow Rafflesian in such pain, but the sight of the coach’s care and concern was met with a warmly-moved applause from the spectators of both schools.
With a couple of key players down, it was indeed a rough time for the team, considering that they were already shorthanded due to injuries. Moreover, it was evident that Hwa Chong was not going to back down as they managed to break the draw on the scoreboard by making two consecutive two-point baskets, thus having a lead over Raffles. The atmosphere on the court was taut with concentration and desperation; and despite #4 Bernice’s re-entry into the court, the girls, under pressure and not in their best condition, were having trouble keeping up, thus ending the match with a close 62-58.
Captain Woon Wei Jing was gracious in agreeing to answer our questions, in spite of the team coming so close to winning. She admits that they “could have done better”, and that they should not have “let their guard down” during the first half. However, Wei Jing was clearly proud of her teammates, as she knew that they had “fought really hard” and she was very “impressed” with the team’s “good spirit”.
The Coach’s statements echoed that of the captain’s, agreeing that each and every one of the girls “played their best” and “persevered to the last minute” despite being clearly “shorthanded”. So that afternoon, the girls went home with their hearts heavy, but also determined, as they looked ahead to their third-fourth match against National Junior College on Friday.
The 3rd – 4th match began well, as we gained an early lead, with #4 Bernice scoring the opening points, and the girls managing to win rebounds and constantly pressure their opponents, causing NJ to miss many shots. But midway through the quarter, NJ subbed all 5 players, while our 5 remained. With their fresher players, NJ managed to turn the tide in their favour. Within the last two minutes of the quarter, NJ scored 9 consecutive points, and it didn’t help that their last two baskets were 3-pointers. Our morale took a definite blow, as we ended this quarter down 8 – 12. The pressure was on to catch up.
The second quarter saw a bit of a stalemate, and a subsequent breakthrough by our girls. Initially, it was frustrating to see that whenever we closed in, NJ would score and pull away again, keeping us under constant pressure. Our team held on though, with a notable play being where #4 Bernice made a spectacular move to keep the ball in play by jumping out of the court and knocking it back in before she touched the ground — a testament to the skill level of the players in this match. The pressure escalated further however, when NJ began to score unanswered, till by mid quarter, the score stood at 11 – 20. The tension was palpable. NJ was pulling away, and the girls had to turn the game around. The coach called a timeout, breaking NJ’s momentum, and giving the girls a breather and strategy refresher. It seemed to work, with #9 scoring right after, and again later on, this time with 2 defenders on her. It was clear that we’d regained our momentum. We ended the quarter well, closing the gap to 17 – 22 with some satisfying plays. One which stood out was when #6 Rachel failed to convert her free throws but kept going, intercepting a pass immediately after her throws, and successfully scoring a 2 pointer. So for this quarter, though we were still trailing behind, now we had the momentum, and we were chasing NJ down.
During the half–time break, one of the boys’ basketball players (who declined to be named) mentioned NJ’s strategy of continually substituting their players, while we were, as the coach mentioned in the semi-finals, “shorthanded”. It was thus an uphill battle, with the girls facing more well-rested opponents. As he said, “the only limiting factor is stamina.” But the girls pushed on, with the 3rd quarter seeing them close the gap and really chase down NJ. Captain #12 Wei Jing opened the quarter with a brilliant 3 pointer which closed the gap and ramped up the pressure on NJ, which mounted even further when #9 Charmaine equalized at 22 all, setting off a wave of cheers from our side. What followed was an almost point-for-point exchange for the rest of the quarter, and at one point the score stayed unchanged for three and a half minutes The atmosphere was charged, with our spontaneous cheers of “Defeeeeeend defend!…” interspersed with shouts of “D-UP!” from the boys’ basketball team. Both teams had fought neck and neck this quarter, with every point being hard fought, and that set the mood as we entered the intense final quarter.
The final quarter started with NJ trying to pull away as they widened the point gap to a 26 – 34. In between the fight for an upperhand, NJ subbed everyone, again trying to wear us out. Perhaps because they were more energized than our players, resulting in a subsequent pair of free throws, bringing the score to 30 – 36. But they couldn’t take away our momentum, as we caught up 35 – 36, with a stunning shot from #4 Bernice from under all three of her defenders, converting one free throw, and #9 subsequently scoring both her free throws to thunderous cheers, an incredible feat considering how exhausted she would have been this late in the game. The comeback was real.
Perhaps all too real for NJ, as they called a timeout; maybe feeling the need to restrategize and break our flow. During the timeout, there was anticipation in the air. We were a mere point behind, and down to the last minutes. So when a decisive 2-pointer was made our side erupted in cheers, with the score of 37 – 36 putting us in the lead for the first time since the first quarter. The girls were on a roll, and at 1m16s to go, #12 Wei Jing scored a stunning 3 pointer from the right, straight down into the hoop, securing our lead in a truly spectacular fashion. With a minute to go, the girls were able to maintain their cool amidst the cheers, the palpable tension, and their own exhaustion, and it was incredible to watch. When the buzzer finally sounded, all of the supporters on our side simply exploded with mirth, shouting and cheering with wild, total abandon (this writer was hoarse by the end of it all, and had to desperately search for water before doing the interviews). The girls were too worn-out to celebrate, but one could see it on their faces — that mixed in with all the exhaustion, was also joy at having just played an incredible match.
After the match and their team talk, we again caught up with the captain Wei Jing about the game. As it turns out, they has been training thrice weekly for three hours at a time since the holidays, and she shared that in fact one of the most memorable parts of the season was the trainings, “that [they] were able to endure the trainings as a team” and “never gave up”. Their training clearly paid off, as they managed to overcome “all the cramps, all the injuries, foul trouble” and mental and physical pressure, as Wei Jing shared. For this match, they faced a couple of obstacles in particular, with one being their short-handedness, since as Wei Jing shared, they really had “few that can play such long minutes, up and down” for about an hour, and it was “mentally and physically tiring” for those on the court. Also, nearing the end of the season, many had sustained injuries, and couldn’t continue to come down for training, further exacerbating this issue. This game also saw them facing foul troubles, and Wei Jing provided an insight into this. Apparently, they were taking a “long time to adapt to a new style of defense”, from ‘zone defense’ (which is slower) to ‘full court man’ (which is faster paced). On the whole though, they pushed through and overcame these, and as Wei Jing said to sum up, though it was “not exactly what we expected earlier on, [she] would like to thank the team for putting in so much effort, and that they hope to continue this intensity for next year, and get even better results”. That afternoon, despite the constant pressure, the exhaustion, and the tension as the game wore on, the girls played even harder and eventually ‘bounced’ back. It was incredibly moving to watch, and Press would like to give our most heartfelt congratulations to them on their 3rd place! Through these two games, the girls’ basketball team truly showed us what it means to hang in there, and give your all. They showed us what it meant to be a team — that they didn’t simply support each other because they were a team; they are a team because they support each other.
12: Woon Wei Jing (Capt)
6: Rachel Mok
4: Bernice Yeo
7: Carisia Lee
9: Charmaine Koh
14: Sevilla Chea
10: Lim Jie En