By Kimberly Kwek
A closely-fought final saw the NTU netball team, then defending champions, lose their title to National University of Singapore (NUS) during last year’s edition of the Singapore University Games (SUniG).
NTU led at half-time, but did not sustain the lead and eventually lost 70-52.
“I don’t think we took it as a loss, we saw it more as a journey; it was a process that we needed to get ourselves to Inter-Varsity Games ,” said current netball captain, Tan Yan Yi, 20, who was an unused substitute in last year’s competition.
The second-year student from the Nanyang Business School added: “We picked ourselves up and the whole team carried on.”
Similar to last year, the team will go into SUniG with a relatively new squad because a number of seniors have already graduated.
Players felt that the lack of team chemistry made all the difference in last year’s SUniG and it was a lesson learnt at the expense of the title.
“I think we learnt a lot from the player changes and how to cope with the mentality of different players in different seasons,” said 22-year-old Ang Kai Lin, a final-year student from the School of Art, Design and Media, who played in last year’s final.
In order to bridge the gap between current and incoming players, the team started training earlier in July as compared to previous years, where they only began training during the school term. Freshmen also started training early to practise different tactics.
Training sessions were also more intensive, to help less skilful players catch up with their peers and further boost team chemistry.
The team has also begun training at the newly-opened Wave at the Sports and Recreation Centre. The indoor courts at the new facility have parquet flooring, which is similar to their tournament venue, allowing them to better prepare for the upcoming Games.
Despite the pressure, the team’s main goal is to qualify for this year’s finals.
“When we reach there, then we’ll talk about what we’re going to do. Now it’s really just about taking it one game at a time,” said Tan, who plays midcourt.
“I think this group of girls has that level of commitment and I think that’s what differentiates us and is what will push us through.”
This year’s preparation for the handball team focuses on developing both physical and mental strength.
Instead of continuing their usual practice of increasing the intensity of their handball training sessions only when the season approached, the women’s team has decided to maintain the same level of physical training throughout the year.
Commenting on the change in strategy, team captain Chanel Ding, 23, said: “The old regime was pointless because we risk higher injury and being worn out more easily.”
Having the right mentality is also important for this year’s Games as the players prepare themselves to enter the new season with a new team, after many seniors graduated last year.
“I see an improvement in our mindsets. I hope this can change things up so during the actual game if anyone makes a mistake, the team morale won’t plunge,” said Toylene Teo, 22, a final-year student from the School of Biological Sciences, whose team lost 26-20 to NUS last year.
“When our seniors were present, we would look up to them and learn from them, but we also always relied on them. Now that they’ve graduated, there’s a certain pressure on us that gives us the positive motivation to push ourselves more,” added Teo.
While the goal for this year is to win, the most important thing for Ding is for the team to play as one.
“I want to us to be able to step on court confident and to remain calm; and when we step off, regardless of the score, to feel that we’re still champions, because that would be phenomenal,” said Ding, a final-year student from the School of Social Sciences.
For the men’s team, they will enter the court without a coach this year, after losing to NUS 35-22 in the finals last year.
They were unable to find a replacement for their previous coach, who left after last season, but that has not hindered their progress.
“Even though we had a coach last year, he wasn’t around so much. He only appeared nearing the competition period,” said team captain Clarence Chua, 22.
Both seniors and current players have stepped up to fill in the gaps — Aaron Lin, 33, a senior, and Huang Junli, 26, who is doing a Postgraduate Diploma in Education at the National Institute of Education (NIE), are playing the roles of student-coaches to the team.
“I do have experience in coaching so I wanted to share my knowledge and help them get better,” said Lin, who is currently doing his master’s degree at NIE.
Chua, a second-year student from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, believes that the returning seniors offer different input to the team as they have more experience as players, as well as coaches.
Both Lin and Huang are coaching the national Under-17 team.
Chua feels that the team did not mesh well last year. But going into the tournament having trained together for the past year, he is confident that they will be a more cohesive team.
Both the men’s and women’s teams will be going for gold this year, eager to make up for last year’s shortcomings.
The cross-country team narrowly missed beating NUS in last year’s SUniG, with both the male and female teams coming in a close second by two points.
Cross-country is competed on a points-based system where each runner will receive the points that corresponds to their placing. The points of the first four runners are added up and the team with the lowest number of points wins.
“Although it was close, we were also a little disappointed. We never know when we’ll get so close to NUS again,” said Lester Tan, 24.
The third-year student from the School of Social Sciences competed in the event last year, coming in 10th overall, with his teammates coming in third, fourth and seventh — accumulating 24 points. Tan’s NUS competitors came in first, second, eighth and 11th to win the race with a low of 22 points.
This year, the members have decided to increase the number of training sessions and take it upon themselves to train even in their own time to win.
But the road to gold is not just about training intensively.
Captain Koh Zuo Hong, a second-year Sports Science and Management student, emphasises a lot on team bonding, which he said was something they overlooked last year. Outside of training sessions, they have meals together and schedule more outings to give teammates a chance to have fun together.
The 23-year-old Koh said: “I hope these bonding sessions will let everyone know each other better and treat one another as a second family.
“Teamwork and bonding is very important to be stronger.”