By Jermaine Lee (24A01A), Jessica Zhu Yunjie (24A01E)
Photographs courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society
“I keep telling them that if they can overcome this, they can overcome anything in life.”
This is what Netball’s teacher-in-charge, Ms Shafa, had to say about the players before their NSG finals on 24 May. With two main players down after their match with ACJC on Monday, the Netball team refused to let this setback get them down. “The team still has that fighting spirit… [Coach’s] knowledge of Netball is very profound.”
“It’s different when you’re immersed with them — you can feel the energy, you can feel the passion.” The team did their warm-ups with the same dogged intensity they would demonstrate later on court. Even though they were sitting on the sidelines, other players watched intently, shouting words of encouragement and advice.
During water breaks, they tied green and white ribbons in their hair, laughing while eating muffins that their coach had bought for them. Shifting from his strict, no-nonsense attitude during the training itself, he now joked and laughed along with the team.
“We’re very proud of them,” Ms Shafa smiled, looking at the players doing their warmups fondly, “Everyone keeps saying they’re the strawberry generation, but when you watch them, they’re certainly not.”
On the bus to the competition venue, Netball’s other teacher-IC, Ms Cheng, took the microphone to give the team a pep talk. “Raffles, are we ready to get champions?” She asks. “Yes!” The team roared.
As the team made their way into Hall 1 of the OCBC Arena, a hint of nervous excitement trailed after. They ran through drill after drill so systematically that it was easy to see the team fall into a familiar sense of comfort — effectively easing away some of the tension in their shoulders.
It did not take much longer for the match supporters to start spilling in too; RI had sent a whopping number of 19 classes to Netball Finals, and they certainly made their voices heard in the starting cheer-off with EJC!
The players’ seniors from the Netball batches before them filled the first rows of the spectator stands. They brought cameras and IPads to record the match like proud parents. One of them even borrowed Council’s handheld loudspeaker in her excitement to cheer for her juniors.
In a flurry of activity, introductions to the team members were swiftly in order. As the crowd went wild, the Netball players linked arms and bowed deeply before assuming their respective positions on court.
The first quarter got off to a shaky start. Despite their fiery enthusiasm, anxiety bested our players several times, causing them to miss passes and shots. Meanwhile, EJC was relatively steadier — their Goal Shooter deposited the ball into the net with textbook precision almost every time she received the ball.
Despite the tense atmosphere, throughout the entire game, the sportsmanship of both schools’ spectators was commendable. Every time a player aimed for the net, both teams’ supporters immediately fell so silent the breathing of the spectators was audible, allowing the player to focus on making the shot.
The first quarter ended 11-13, to EJC. “They need to be steady,” commented Tanisha Dasari (24S03H), who played with many of the players in secondary school, “They’re panicking a lot.”
The team soon found their footing in the second quarter. Our players took to the court with renewed determination to do their best.
Newly swapped-in Goal Shooter Dawn Lim (24S03D) took on the challenge steadily, taking advantage of her agility to get the ball to the goal post. Making her shots with practised ease, she even made shooting with only one leg look effortless.
Their defence also stepped up, especially by their midcourts — they lunged for nearly every pass made by the opponents.
The team quickly made up for their mistakes in the previous quarter, surging ahead 30-25.
Despite their lead, the team refused to get too comfortable. Despite their exhaustion starting to set in, they kept up the momentum.
Often, the defenders and midcourts communicated so seamlessly that they delivered the ball from the opponent’s possession to their shooters in mere seconds.
When EJC changed its defence strategy to stick closer to Dawn, Goal Attack Anna Macinnes (23S06F) made several goals near the goal circle with a calmness that stood out from the tension of the game.
The team stayed ahead 43-39.
The last quarter delivered a spectacular finale that kept everyone on the edge of their seats. Many audience members opted to stand in hopes of gaining a better view of the final goal, but the teams kept them guessing by constantly one-upping the other.
With the score stubbornly refusing to budge from a one-goal difference, our players pushed themselves harder than ever.
RI’s defenders, Goal Keeper Clara Tan (23S03E) and Goal Defence Shineta Tanandika (24S03J) made stunning interceptions of passes that changed the pace of the game.
The team never took any chance they had to score a goal for granted, with all players working together to deliver the ball across the court.
The spectators all stood to get a better look at the court. Every time RI gained possession of the ball, cheers erupted across the stands.
Even halfway through the quarter, no side showed a clear sign of victory. That is, until EJC scored once more, bringing the score to a game-changing tie of 49-49. A collective sharp intake of breath was sucked in, and it’s likely that the same question flashed across everyone’s minds: Will Netball Finals truly end in such an inconclusive tie?
Despite the whirlwind of emotions, audience members remained united in staying silent when players lined up their shots. EJC put up a valiant fight by bringing their score up to 51, but it couldn’t be denied that team morale took a heavy hit after our players swiftly launched a counter-attack and scored their 52nd and 53rd goals in one fell swoop.
Following a particularly bad tumble taken by an EJC player, their team started erring on the side of caution. Meanwhile, as the clock ran down, RI played in an increasingly aggressive manner. One mad dash across the court and several well-timed passes later, the ball once again made its way into Dawn’s hands.
It was a strategic risk that paid off — Dawn calmly aligned the shot, and the ball dipped into the net ever so gracefully that for a moment, it was met with stunned silence. With that, the piercing cry of the final whistle sounded, and the game concluded with an extremely close score of 54-51, to RI.
As the team members raced across the court for a group hug, RI supporters shared in their pride and screamed their congratulations. Countless audience members could no longer resist the excitement and physically jumped for joy, sending tremors through the floor.
This was a particularly emotional moment for the team, and many wept in joy. They had brought home RI’s first A-Division Netball championship in 5 years! Those countless hours of gruelling training had paid off at last, and it was perhaps their very own Netball seniors who cheered the loudest.
“I could see Jiaolian beaming happily from the stands. He even took his mask off,” remarked one RGS junior who’d come to the match to support her seniors who had graduated, “This is the happiest I’ve ever seen him.”
When asked about the victory, Clara shared that she had mixed feelings. “We’ve come to OCBC so much, it’s legit our second home.” After enduring weeks of frequent training sessions held during the ungodly hours of both morning and night, this win was a bittersweet one, to say the least.
On top of the intensive physical training, the team had also invested additional time and effort into building up the effortless communication seen on court. Their secret lay within a group trip to Kuala Lumpur, which served as the bonding opportunity that the players needed.
Yet even such ample preparation could not cover all the challenges that they had been required to overcome. Being two members down, the team had to quickly adjust to a different lineup of players from what they were typically used to.
“I think my entire team put in a lot of hard work and it really, really paid off.”Clara Tan (23S03E)
Team Captain Anna echoed the sentiment. “I’m really proud of the team for managing to pull through despite our setbacks,“ she said, “I’m really proud of how far they’ve come, not only growing as players on court but as people off court as well.”
“This team is my second family, and everyone has played such an important role in building up our team — I couldn’t imagine fighting alongside anyone else.”Anna Macinnes (23S06J)
Anna Macinnes (23S06J): Goal Attack
Dawn Lim Sun Hei (24S03D): Goal Attack
Sulaxane Shreya Bhushan (24S06F): Goal Shooter
Tessa Teh Shu Hui (24S03G): Goal Shooter
Amelia Umairah Binte Suadi Noor (24S03B): Centre
Valerie Low Qian Ru (24A01E): Centre
Bernice Tan (24S03G): Wing Attack
Lim Xiao Tian (23S06D): Wing Attack
Foo Wen Jing Chavonz (23S06P): Wing Defence
Shineta Tanandika (24S03J): Goal Defence
Jonee Chan Xin Tong (23S06I): Goal Keeper
Tan Jing Xuan (23S03E): Wing Defence
Ng Xi Wen Gillian (23S03N): Goal Keeper
Tan Hui En, Clara (23S03E): Goal Keeper