SINGAPORE – A team trip to Kuala Lumpur during the March holidays gave Raffles Institution’s netball players a chance to bond, and acted as the catalyst for them to win their first A Division championship in six years as they beat Eunoia Junior College 54-51 on Wednesday.
“After the trip, I think everyone got to know each other better. We bonded a lot more, our spirits were a lot higher. We all had a common goal and we started working effectively towards that goal,” said Anna Macinnes, the 18-year-old RI captain.
Raffles’ last two trips to the finals were in 2018 and 2019. They lost both time to Anglo-Chinese Junior College. The next two editions were cancelled due to Covid-19. In 2022, they were third as Victoria Junior College were crowned champions.
Anna said: “Our goal was to reclaim the title (last won in 2017). We were watching a lot of (netball) videos, and we can’t even sleep at night, trying to work for it. We won it for our seniors too.”
In fact, the OCBC Arena was filled not only with their classmates, teachers and family but also their predecessors from different batches, shouting encouragement and joining in the booming cheers throughout the final.
There was also plenty of support from familiar faces. Teammates Bernice Tan and Amelia Umairah Suadi Noor were both injured during Monday’s semi-final against ACJC and unable to play in Wednesday’s championship match. But the pair sat on the bench with the reserves, cheering loudly for those on the court.
JC1 student Bernice, 17, standing on crutches, said: “It was very emotionally painful to not play today but I believe and trust that my team will do well. I’m very proud of them.”
Despite their absence, morale within the squad was unaffected. Their secret comes from an unlikely source. The Raffles girls have a pre-match ritual of singing in the bus on the way to the venue. Their favourite song is Lemon Tree, an international hit by German band Fool’s Garden from 1995.
“When the team is feeling very low, for some reason once Lemon Tree is playing, everyone will be very high. So we play that almost every day… Everyone will sing very loud,” said Anna.
While it was Eunoia who started the stronger of both sides, they ended the first quarter leading 13-11, Raffles eventually went into half-time 30-25 up.
By the middle of the third quarter, their advantage was 36-28. But Eunoia showed plenty of spirit to halve that deficit to just four points by the start of the fourth quarter.
Eunoia even narrowed the gap to just 51-50 before Raffles regrouped, scoring three consecutive points in the closing minutes to seal the victory.
This was Eunoia’s first final, their previous best performance was in 2018 when they reached the semi-finals and captain Charlotte Lee, 17, was understandably proud of their effort.
She said: “Honestly, I think my team did really well… We still fought to the end and I saw everybody pushing themselves hard and going all out for every ball. (Getting to the final) is a big achievement already for us and we just came here wanting to play a good game.”