Nations Cup tune-up for Singapore netballers' ultimate goal: reclaiming SEA Games gold from Malaysia

Chia Han Keong
The 12-strong Singapore netball national team for the 2019 M1 Nations Cup. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian/Yahoo News Singapore)
The 12-strong Singapore netball national team for the 2019 M1 Nations Cup. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — For the entire of this year, the Singapore national netball team have been building towards a single target: to reclaim the SEA Games gold medal from Malaysia.

The 2015 gold medallists had lost to their arch-rivals in the 2017 final, and even though they somewhat avenged that stinging defeat by beating Malaysia in the semi-finals of the 2018 Asian Netball Championships, the players are eager to make amends at the biennial Games too.

“We may be a squad in the midst of rebuilding, but winning honours now is as important as the process of building for the future. And I can see that my teammates working hard towards having that kind of mindset and desire to win back the gold,” national captain Charmaine Soh told Yahoo News Singapore in an interview at Netball Singapore’s Kallang headquarters on Wednesday (25 September).

“We’re up against a tough opponent in Malaysia, and it could all boil down to who makes the least mistakes, and who wants more.”

Final stretch of preparations

The team will enter the final stretch of preparations as they gear up for the M1 Nations Cup, which will be held from 20 to 26 October at the OCBC Arena.

The six-team competition – which also features national squads from Botswana, Cook Islands, Ireland, Namibia and Papua New Guinea – will serve as a key tune-up for Singapore ahead of the SEA Games, to be held from 30 November to 11 December in the Philippines.

Singapore national coach Natalie Milicich will finalise the SEA Games squad after the tournament, and she is looking for consistent players who can execute her match tactics at a high level even against top-class opponents at the Nations Cup.

More importantly, she wants to see changes in her charges’ mindset, after they endured a tough Netball World Cup campaign in July in Liverpool, where they lost all their matches to finish last in the 16-team competition.

“We’ve had a lot of honest discussions about our performances at the World Cup, about how to transform the players’ mindset from being mere participants in a top-level competition to a champion’s mentality,” the New Zealand coach told Yahoo News Singapore.

“We want to make sure that our players can execute under great pressure, which is why the top-level opposition at the Nations Cup will help in honing our togetherness and toughness.

“And we have also promoted players from the national Under-21 team, and they provide intensity, eagerness and healthy competition for playing time. They will help to keep the players focused and on their toes.”

Two rookies selected for squad

To that end, Milicich has brought in two uncapped U-21 players – Angelina Lim and Jamie Lim – for the Nations Cup squad, which was announced on Wednesday. The youngsters have impressed after joining the senior squad on a week-long training trip to New Zealand earlier this month.

For Angelina, 20, it is a reward for her persistence despite being dropped from the U-21 squad earlier this year.

Low on confidence, she had considered quitting the sport, but kept on training after some encouragement from Milicich. By the middle of the year, she was selected for the Asian Youth Netball Championships squad, which finished second in Japan in July.

“It has already been an amazing year for me and it is incredible to be part of the team for the M1 Nations Cup. I will definitely give my best and not let the team and coach (Milicich) down,” she said.

Focused on ultimate target

Ultimately, the team remained focused on their all-important target of dethroning Malaysia, who have geared up for the Games by training full-time and bringing back Tracey Robinson, the Australian coach who had led them to the 2017 SEA Games gold.

Despite the Singapore players having to juggle between training and their individual study and work commitments, Milicich said, “We’ve talked about making our sessions as efficient as possible, and the players have shown their desire to make full use of their time training together.

“We’ll always have that never-give-up attitude, so we’ve just have to be really consistent with our best performances from now on, and we’ll stand a good chance at achieving our target.”

Singapore squad for Nations Cup: Charmaine Soh, Kimberly Lim, Aqilah Andin, Melody Teo, Toh Kai Wei, Lee Pei Shan, Sindhu Nair, Kwok Shuyi, Tan Xin Yi, Carmen Goh, Angelina Lim, Jamie Lim.

Nations Cup ticketing details: Single-day pass (Adult: $10/Child: $3/Student or senior citizen: $5), finals-day pass (Adult: $15/Child: $6/Student or senior citizen: $10), season pass (Adult: $50/Child: $16/Student or senior citizen: $25). Family package for each pass category also available.

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