SINGAPORE – At the start of the 2023 National School Games season, CHIJ Toa Payoh Secondary School’s C Division netballers had doubts over their chances of reaching the national final.
With four Secondary 1 students and three Secondary 2 students in their starting line-up, their 2023 squad were younger and more inexperienced than their predecessors and they were unsure of how far they would go.
But their confidence grew as the season progressed, with the team clinching the South Zone title in July. On Wednesday, they achieved double glory by being crowned national champions after a 30-28 victory over Methodist Girls’ School (MGS) in the final.
This was the school’s first national C Division title since 2018. Singapore Sports School were winners in 2019 and there were no nationals in the three years that followed owing to the pandemic.
CHIJ centre Kavviya Kabil Dhew, 13, said: “I’m really happy that me and my teammates have made it this far.
“If you compare us now to the very first time that we went for zonals, we’ve made a lot of improvements as compared to how we were before.”
CHIJ coach Kok Mun Wai added that their shaky start to the season could have been because the focus was on the B Division team, who also won the nationals, but praised her charges’ progress.
The 54-year-old said: “This is one of my more satisfying seasons in the sense that I’ve seen them improve and evolve over the games.
“At the start of the season, they were still quite raw, a lot of mistakes, misunderstandings but, as the games went on, they really improved and fought for each other in every single game.”
Wednesday’s final at the Toa Payoh Sports Hall was an intense affair between two sides who showed their determination to win the trophy.
While CHIJ took an early lead, West Zone champions MGS fought back to go 9-7 up at the end of the first quarter.
But CHIJ goalshooter Alexis Gabriella Francis’ sharp shooting put the team 18-17 ahead in the second quarter, before her team extended their lead to 28-20 after a dominant third period.
A resurgent MGS returned to the court in the final quarter, capitalising on misplaced passes and missed shots to narrow the deficit, scoring eight goals to their opponents’ two, but CHIJ held on.
It was relief for Alexis when the final whistle blew. She said: “I was more focused in the first three quarters. I was definitely more nervous in the last quarter, but I just kept saying to myself to stay focused.”
CHIJ captain Sahana Anand, 14, said it was not easy leading the team, adding: “I felt a lot of weight on my shoulders as the captain. I felt that I had to lead by example so that my teammates could follow, and I’m so glad they followed and to be the captain.”