All the Way: Netball Finals 2019

By Emily Ni (20S03C) and Kelly Leong (20S07C)
Photos courtesy of Jenson Huang (20S06T) of Raffles Photographic Society

The atmosphere crackles with an electrifying energy as spectators stream into Jurong East Sports Hall. On the court are long-time rivals Raffles Institution (RI) and Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC), gearing up for the final game of the season. Much is riding on the shoulders of these athletes—the RI netball team had lost their four-year winning streak to ACJC in 2017. They are now huddled in a circle before the match, clearly determined to make their comeback. Friends, seniors and family alike have gathered in the stands to ardently cheer them on.

The RI Netball Team doing a team cheer before the game begins.

After a short introduction of the players from both teams, the referee blows the whistle for the first quarter, and the spectator stand comes alive with school cheers. On court, the RI players move with practised agility, intercepting passes and preventing goals from being scored by the opposing team. With players darting about within their zones and leaping gracefully to catch the ball, it is no wonder that by the five minute mark, goals have been scored by both teams. At one point, in a show of great speed and practised manoeuvres, Yu Jiawei (20S03F), the Goal Shooter of RI, narrowly avoids two defenders and scores a point. As players continue the quarter, there is a brief scuffle for the ball after an unsuccessful pass, with RI gaining possession to the triumphant shouts of their supporters.

The quarter ends with a scoreline of 15-10 in favour of ACJC and the court is vacated for a break. Quiet murmurs ripple through the spectator stands while players can be seen huddling in a circle as the coach gives out important words of advice for the remainder of the game.

The supporters of both teams return with fervour as the second quarter takes off, the RI supporters chanting “Let’s go Raffles, Let’s go!”. In the midst of the strikingly fast-paced match, there are plenty of fouls, where the piercing sound of the whistle blown by the referee causes a pause in the game and a quick readjustment of the players on the court. This quarter is also fraught with many heart-stopping instances of changing possession, with the RI netball team determined to catch up and even the score. As the game continues, the spectators remain transfixed as an RI players sends the ball sailing through the air in an arch, heading for the edge of the court. Hushed gasps are heard and everyone sits a little straighter in their seats, for a ball that goes out means a change in possession. Fortunately, Alexandra Mei Tan (19S06C), RI’s Centre for the quarter, snatches the ball before it touches the ground, effectively saving RI’s shot at the goal.

Unfortunately, not everything goes smoothly, and not every attempt at a goal succeeds. RI misses a goal twice, ultimately losing the ball to ACJC. Nevertheless, the quarter ends with RI narrowing the score gap by a point, making the scoreline 25-21 in ACJC’s favour.

The third quarter is by far the most intense one. Captain Keziah Vickraman (19S05A) tells us later that many players on the team—herself included—were “playing through injuries”, and that it really comes down to “mind over matter”, where the will to win overcomes the pain of one’s injuries and allows the athletes to focus on the match at hand. This is definitely demonstrated in this quarter—there is no lack of crashing, stumbling and falling from both schools, but all players get up almost immediately. Keziah herself trips and lands on her injured knee, but gets up to play on for the rest of the match.

The players give their very best, narrowing the score gap to a mere three points no more than five minutes into the quarter. Things are beginning to look up. When ACJC tries to pass the ball to their shooter in one round, Emma Isabel Morgan (20A01C), RI’s Goal Keeper for the match, jumps up to successfully intercept the ball and passes it swiftly to her teammates. Throughout the match, she makes other valiant attempts to block her opponent and constantly put pressure on the ACJC shooter. “I foresaw myself defending the tall shooter,” Emma tells us, “and I had to make full use of my game sense and speed to intercept the earlier balls.”

In one nerve-wracking instance, Rebecca Leong (19S06C), the Goal Attacker, takes a shot and the ball teeters at the edge of the goal. As everyone holds their breath, the ball eventually falls in, leading to loud cheering from the spectators.

Rebecca takes a shot, the ball teetering on the edge before falling in.

However, things take a sour turn for the RI team as ACJC fights back, with long passes to their Goal Shooter who scores with almost every shot. Tensions are also running high among the audience. Heated protests against the umpire’s ruling of the game arise when the umpire calls out an RI player for a foul, effectively changing the possession of the ball and allowing ACJC to score. Emma also reveals that the ACJC team had read into the RI team’s strategy by this time, deciding to pass directly to their shooter rather than make short passes. Unfortunately, the gap between the scores grows ever wider and the scoreline remains in ACJC’s favour at 38-29.

The audience is unusually subdued during the break before the final quarter, knowing that it is vital that the players can concentrate. However, once the quarter starts, the spectators give their all in cheering the team on. A number of players have been rotated out, a decision made by the coach to help the flow of the play. RI scores the first goal—eliciting thunderous applause—while  Emma saves a ball from right under the basket in another attempt to score, narrowly avoiding the widening of the score gap.

By this time in the game, most players have been playing for more than 45 minutes and are visibly heaving. And yet, as they approach the final moments of the match, they are relentless, not giving in despite the odds not being in their favour. Instead, they perform breathtaking saves and throws in order to hopefully turn the tides. The spectators, too, are relentless in their support, cheering on the athletes with shouts of “All the way, All the way!”.

As the finals come to an end with three sharp whistles, the ACJC supporters let out cheers as ACJC takes the win with a scoreline of 53-38. While the ACJC team celebrates, the RI players, visibly crestfallen, huddle on the court, no doubt consoling each other with pats on the back. As the event comes to a close, the team stands in a line with their arms on each others’ backs, and takes a bow in the direction of the RI spectators. This elicits loud cheers to affirm their efforts, and congratulate them on a match well-fought.  

It was a hard-fought match indeed. Ms Shafarina, one of the teachers-in-charge of Netball, expresses praise for the team. “It was truly inspiring to see the Rafflesian spirit,” she said. “The girls’ never-say-die attitude and grit definitely saw them through to the end.” In a show of support, she addresses the parents of the team: “Your daughters are already champions”.

The A Division Netball girls going up to receive their medals.

Loh Jia Yi (20S06Q) remarks that she is “very proud that [her team] managed to pull through”, and that they “did a good job”. Indeed, the season was not a smooth-sailing journey for the team, but their determination and grit saw them through. Watching them play with such fluidity and grace, it’s hard to tell that some of them, if not most, have struggled with some degree of performance anxiety; even Emma, who fearlessly defended the tall shooter, was not immune to this. “I was filled with a lot of self-doubt throughout the season—in fact, all the way up until the semi-finals match,” she admits. “However, my coach and teammates gave me a wake-up call. They gave me the push I needed, and I will forever be grateful.”

“I’m proud of my team for not giving up until the final whistle was blown.

Emma Morgan (20A01C)

Above all, it was the unity and spirit of the team—even through batches—that allowed them to press on even when the going got rough. Keziah, while visibly disappointed with the results, tells us that she was “glad to [have been] part of the process, because [the process] [would] stay with [them] for years to come.”

Raffles Press would like to congratulate the A Division Netball team for their outstanding achievements this sporting season and wish them all the best for their future matches!

Players

Goal Shooter: Yu Jiawei (20S03F)
Goal Attack: Rebecca Leong (19S06C)
Wing Attack: Grace Poong (19S06L), Nicole Hia (20S06C)
Centre: Alexandra Tan (19S06C), Grace Poong (19S06L)
Wing Defence: Ashlyn Poon (20S06Q)
Goal Defence: Keziah Vickraman (19S05A)Goal Keeper: Emma Isabel Morgan (20A01C)

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