Double boost for Netball

Under coach Ruth Aitken's tutelage, Singapore's new netball captain Vanessa Lee (right) and her team-mates Josephine Yeo (left), and Yu Mei Ling will be bidding to defend their crown at the Asian Championships next month. The returning Lee, in particular,
Under coach Ruth Aitken's tutelage, Singapore's new netball captain Vanessa Lee (right) and her team-mates Josephine Yeo (left), and Yu Mei Ling will be bidding to defend their crown at the Asian Championships next month. The returning Lee, in particular, will be counted on to provide the experience. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Coach Ruth to stay another year, veteran Vanessa recalled and given captaincy

Singapore netball received two doses of good news yesterday when national coach Ruth Aitken committed to stay at the helm for another year while veteran Vanessa Lee was appointed captain after coming out of international retirement.

Aitken, a New Zealander who has guided the team since August 2013, said: "I'm committed through the Asian Championships and the Nations Cup and to the SEA Games next year.

"The reason is really because I am passionate about this group of girls."

The 59-year-old, who led Singapore to the SEA Games gold last year and the Asian Championships triumph in 2014, had the task of replacing the trio of key players - Micky Lin, Premila Hirubalan and Chen Huifen, who retired last month.

But Aitken convinced Lee not only to make a comeback after a four-year absence, the 32-year-old was also given the captaincy, succeeding Lin.

Lee's first task will be to lead the team at the Asian Championships held in Bangkok from July 30 to Aug 7, where Singapore are two-time defending champions (2012 and 2014).

Lee, who plays as a goal keeper or goal defender and has 57 caps, said: "The level of play has changed a bit over the years. It's more competitive and more physical now."

With the departure of three key players, Aitken felt Lee's experience is an asset to her 12-player squad. First called-up in 2002, Lee has played in two Asian Championships, two World Cups and four editions of the Nations Cup.

Aitken said: "She's calm and measured and consistent. I felt that's what our group really needed at this moment. She gives people confidence, she has experience on the courts, and she's one of the reasons for our success over the years.

"I feel that there is something left in her which Singapore still needs to see."

After stepping away from the courts in 2012 to give her body a break, Lee missed the sport so much that she joined Sneakers Stingrays to play in the Netball Super League last year.

So when Aitken approached her earlier this year to consider rejoining the national team, Lee made up her mind quickly.

Lee now commits to training five times a week alongside her job as a senior executive at the Little Swim School. She was also part of the 15-player squad that went to Fiji on a training tour from June 15-22.

She said: "I miss showing the competitive side in me. I like to compete. I don't think I can play until I'm 40, so I'd better do it now.

"I'm leading the team this time, I'm not just a regular player anymore, so the responsibilities are different now and it's a bigger challenge for me."

With her skipper appointed and her squad assembled, Aitken spoke excitedly about the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur next year.

She said: "Next year in Malaysia, it will be really exciting and interesting for us. It's like going into a lions' den and we'll be defending our title."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Double boost for Netball'. Print Edition | Subscribe