By Caryn Chiah (19A01A) and Shervon Lee (19S06A)
Photographs courtesy of Zheng Huijun (19A13B) of Raffles Photographic Society
On 4 May, the excited chatter of supporters slowly filled the Kallang Squash and Tennis Centre as the competitors were warmed up for their upcoming matches. The Squash Girls’ team of Raffles’ Institution was up against previous champions, Anglo-Chinese Junior College. Having lost the championship the year before, the thirst to win was evident in the players. The crowd soon grew silent as Sneha Sivakumar (19S03J) stepped into the court to serve her first shot. With an effortless stroke, the ball entered a graceful trajectory to the wall. The finals were underway.
Poised and in control, Sneha easily defeated her opponent, winning 3-0. Following that, Bernyce Tay (18S03N) also quickly bested her opponent with a similarly wide margin of 3-0. Excitement slowly began to mount in the supporters’ stand when it came time for the third match. Having already won two matches, all that was needed for Raffles Institution to claim the championship title was for Nicole Tong (19S06E) to win hers. However, Nicole was up against ACJC’s strongest player, Rachel Lee, promising an exciting match.
The match was peppered with exclamations of shock as Nicole leapt across the court to retrieve every shot. In a flashy move that wowed every spectator, she lunged into a split to save a shot, before quickly getting back up to win the point. Audible gasps of amazement resounded throughout the spectators, and soon enough, two exciting games were over, both in our favour. Were we on the cusp of winning the championship? We need not have worried, for Nicole confidently maintained her winning streak, besting her opponent with skill. The championship was ours.
Simply winning the championship was not enough for our players, who continued to give their all. Despite losing the first set, Christabelle Lim (18A03A) continued to give her all in the next matches. Remaining steady and clear-headed, she pushed through the next three matches to secure another victory. In her last game, despite suffering a significant point margin of 2-9 in her opponent’s favour, Christabelle turned the tide to a 12-10 victory, an impressive display of mental fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds.
Yet it was the final match that proved the most intense, with both players neck to neck for most of it. Alyssa Megan (18A01E) went against past year competitor, Hazel. She started off strong, winning her first game. However, the subsequent two went to ACJC, and the pressure was on. The tension in the air was palpable; the crowd settled into an anticipatory silence, waiting to see how the matches would play out.
Nevertheless, Alyssa persevered, and won the final two games. Her tenacity and experience shone as she played through the cumulative tiredness of five games, seizing the victory with a tearful smile. The last two games had the crowd cheering loudly with all their hearts, and the jubilant atmosphere carried into the prize presentation, where the team received the 1st place trophy, as well as the challenge trophy, with pride.
Especially in the last two games (where players remained clear-headed in the face of defeat), the players’ experience in gameplay and skills shone in their matches. Squash, being a small and rather niche community, does have its advantages in that players are in it for the long run. In the interview with the graduating batch, all of them shared that they have spent 7-9 years – nearly half their lives – playing squash. Their success and gold medals they owe to their many years of training and dedication to the sport.
The interview was full of laughter as the players recounted the things they did during their season. The Squash Girls’ team is certainly unique: unlike many other sports CCAs which tend to impose food bans (the restriction of unhealthy eating during season), the players laughed about their regular intake of fast food, ranging from McDonalds, KFC, and even Popeyes. Their justification for this was a little-known “fact” they revealed to us – “Fast food makes you fast”, as first coined by the Squash Boys’ captain, Anders Ong. Evidently, the pain of arduous trainings and the delight of fried food have forged close bonds in the team.
In fact, when asked whether they thought squash is a team sport or an individual sport (as most would think it is), we were met with an immediate chorus of “Team!”. “Winning isn’t everything, team spirit is more important,” remarked Alyssa, who, despite playing one of the toughest matches of the day, was still smiling. Bernyce also added that while Squash may be played individually, you could not do well without a team. Clearly, having a team gave them something to work towards and fight for.
“[Squash is a] home away from home” – Alyssa
Above all, Squash is more than a sport to the girls. As Bernyce fondly noted, “We grow together as people, and without squash, we wouldn’t be who we are today.” Thanks to the small community, the girls have been through thick and thin together. The four Y6s have three wins and three losses across six years of squash interschools, despite coming from two different secondary schools. This number elicited chuckles from them, as they reminisced about being on opposite sides of the court.
While Squash may be a rather niche sport, it is certainly a universal feeling for all sports CCA members to experience withdrawal symptoms after season. Although the girls did mention that the match being the last for their batch was rather bittersweet, they jokingly declared that the things that they would miss most included “not being able to miss lessons for interschools”, “not having homework extensions”, and many more that we are sure every student athlete is able to relate to.
Press would like to applaud the Squash Girls for an excellent finale to the National Squash Championships 2018, and congratulate them for a well deserved victory.