Netball: Youngsters go through hoops for their dreams

Even after an impressive season in the Netball Super League (NSL), Llabten Narwhals’ Rachel Ling did not expect a call-up to the national Opens team in March.

She had never played for the national age group teams before and had set herself the goal of getting into the Under-21 squad this year.

“I was incredibly shocked,” said the defender, who was named the NSL’s most improved 21-and-Under player and her team’s Most Valuable Player.

“This year was more of perfecting what I already knew and adding knowledge from Opens players in Llabten like (Tan) Xin Yi and (Nurul) Baizura rather than gaining new technical knowledge.

“My one-on-one defence was tighter and I improved the timing of my jumps.”

The 18-year-old is one of 11 players aged 21 and below named in the 17-member Opens team by head coach Annette Bishop.

The New Zealander, who joined Netball Singapore on a one-year deal in January, had vowed to give younger players a chance.

She said: “It’s making sure that we get the continuation (of players) and we can build the foundations.

“The players who were selected into the Opens and A squads performed consistently throughout NSL (which ended prematurely in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic) against some of the experienced Opens players and managed to stand up to the international Fijian players.”

Like many other sports, this year’s plans for the netballers have been disrupted by the coronavirus.

The team were supposed to be gearing up for next month’s (June 19-26) Asian Netball Championship in Jeonju, South Korea, but it has been postponed to December.

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Of the 17-member Opens team called up by national netball coach Annette Bishop (above) are 21 and below.

September’s Nations Cup in Singapore will now also take place in December.

Despite these delays and court training being put on hold during Singapore’s circuit breaker period, the netballers have been focusing on improving their fitness through four weekly, hour-long virtual sessions.

These consist of high-intensity interval training and core work using a ball with exercises like v-sits as well as footwork drills using cones.

The players are also expected to clock 30-minute runs on their own at least twice over the weekend.

Bishop said: “We’re building on their fitness because having stronger players means that we can take the knocks on court and even be physical and step up to players when we play in Asia against Malaysia and Sri Lanka.”

Ling has not yet had a live workout with her new national teammates but already recognises the difference in intensity from these online sessions.

The Ngee Ann Polytechnic student said: “It’s demanding because all of our training has been fitness-based, but for club, we focused more on technical stuff like reaction times.”

Having to train at home has also forced Pooja Senthil Kumar, another newcomer in the squad, to come up with creative solutions.

The goal shooter, 18, practises her technique with a small basketball hoop and a scrunched-up piece of paper at home.

She has trained with the Opens team since last October – she began as a training partner – and noted her progress.

Pooja, who represented the U-21 side in last July’s Asian Youth Netball Championship, initially found lifting a barbell difficult but can now lift a total of 60kg. Being part of the Opens team has helped the PSB Academy student, who plays for Mission Mannas in the NSL, become more confident on court.

She said: “I’m getting fitter and I’ve learnt a lot from the senior players… I’m getting mentally stronger.

“I used to be scared to take the last shot – when you need that goal to win the game – I probably would have missed it. But now, I don’t think so much about that and there’s less pressure for me.”

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