Singapore netballers aiming to win Nations Cup again

Singapore netball coach Ruth Aitken (left) will be counting on team captain Vanessa Lee to lead the charge at the Sept 4-10 Nations Cup.
Singapore netball coach Ruth Aitken (left) will be counting on team captain Vanessa Lee to lead the charge at the Sept 4-10 Nations Cup. ST PHOTO: DON WONG

National netball coach Ruth Aitken is aware of the challenges her charges will face at the upcoming Mission Foods Nations Cup but said the target remains the same - to win the annual tournament.

The 17th-ranked hosts will face strong competition from opponents like Papua New Guinea (15th) and Zambia (16th). And they will attempt to improve on their third-placed finish from last year with a less experienced squad.

Speaking to the media at Netball Singapore yesterday, Aitken said: "We are realistic as to where the team are at the moment, so we've just got to go each day and put ourselves in the best position to go for it at the end.

  • Nations Cup tickets

  • Tickets for the Mission Foods Nations Cup are now on sale.

    Early bird prices ($3) end today, while regular prices range from $5 to $90 (family season pass). Concession tickets are available for local students below 23 years old and for senior citizens aged 60 and above.

    Tickets can be purchased at www.apactix.com, the Singapore Indoor Stadium's box office, at all SingPost outlets or by ringing 3158-8588.

"But you always want to win."

Singapore last won the Nations Cup, now into its 10th year, in 2007.

This year's edition will take place at the OCBC Arena from Sept 4-10.

Singapore have not enjoyed the best of build-ups, finishing third at the Asian Championships in Bangkok earlier this month. It was the first time they had failed to reach the final since 1997.

But Aitken, who has been the Singapore coach since 2013, was heartened by the performance of the team in Thailand.

"We turned over some great ball defensively, and I think our intensity is really good," she said. "Looking forward, we just need to finish off on attack and make sure that we're really comfortable with whatever combination is out there."

She is also confident that the team - with an average of 35 caps per player after the retirements of centurions Chen Huifen, Premila Hirubalan and Micky Lin - are on track to a better showing at the Nations Cup.

Apart from working to improve the ball supply to the shooters, the Singapore team have also been focused on bettering their on-court communication.

Said Aitken: "What often happens in a team when players are under stress is they get quieter.

"So it is about remembering that no matter how stressed you're feeling, the load is shared if you connect with your team-mates and that's much better for the team."

The Kiwi will be counting on captain Vanessa Lee to lead the charge. Lee, 32, came out of international retirement after four years to lead the team, and Aitken said her return has been "awesome".

The 60-year-old said: "She's very supportive, especially to the young ones coming through.

"I believe she's a real key to helping them feel confident about reaching their potential."

Lee was part of the 2007 Nations Cup-winning team, and this year's edition will be her fifth appearance at the tournament.

Said Lee, who has 63 caps: "We've been doing our homework.

"The young ones may not have played against the opponents before, but we've watched videos of them. So we'll do an analysis of how the teams play."

Singapore begin their Nations Cup campaign against the Republic of Ireland on Sunday, and for Aitken, that is "the most important game on our horizon" at the moment.

Beyond the team's results at the Nations Cup, however, the coach hopes their performance will pave the way for better performances in future tournaments. Referring to next year's SEA Games in Malaysia, where Singapore will defend their title, she said: "We're looking at growing the experience this year to hopefully be able to really execute it at top level next year in Malaysia.

"This team have been in one event and it's really hard to go from where you are to world beaters just overnight, so it is a progression.

"While the scoreline is really important, we will know as a group whether we've improved or not."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore netballers aiming to win Nations Cup again'. Print Edition | Subscribe