SINGAPORE - Competing in her first National School Games (NSG), Melanie Lim found herself under pressure on Wednesday (April 20) with her team, Raffles Girls' School (RGS), tied at 1-1 against Methodist Girls' School (MGS) in the Girls' B Division squash finals.
Victory would take them closer to a first B Division title since 2017, and the 14-year-old was not about to let her teammates down.
Unfazed by the pressure, Melanie started on the front foot against MGS' Rachel Tay to win the first game 11-2 at the Kallang Squash Centre. But her opponent was able to regroup to win the next two games and power to a 2-1 lead.
But a change of pace from a cool-headed Melanie saw her come from behind to win the match 3-2 (11-2, 6-11, 6-11, 11-8, 11-7) in 37 minutes and turn the best-of-five finals in her school's favour.
It would prove to be the pivotal point for RGS, as next up was Saiesha Ranjan - who was also playing in her first NSG - who got the job done in 16 minutes by beating MGS captain Natalie Ho 3-0 (11-3, 11-4, 11-5) to help her team win the title 4-1 overall.
Melanie, a Secondary 3 student, said: "I was trying to stay calm and focused on running for every shot. I was one set down and I knew that I could make a comeback.
"I also tried to change the pace and hit to the back of the court instead because I noticed she was having trouble with that.
"I'm quite satisfied and what fuelled me during the match was that I knew that my team had my back. It was our goal to win (the title) but we were a bit hesitant because MSG are a really good team so it was 50-50."
The day had begun on a bright note for MGS with Gracia Chua giving them the lead with a dominant performance, beating RGS' Lindzey Lin 3-0 (11-1, 11-1, 11-3) in 13 minutes.
While her teammate Claire Chong put up a good fight to try to double their lead, she was beaten 3-2 (10-12, 11-5, 11-8, 8-11, 11-7) by Lee Jae Yan of RGS.
Melanie then turned the tide for RGS before Saiesha sealed the victory, while RGS's Vicky Lai beat Swetha Sivakumar of MGS 3-1 (11-8, 11-8, 9-11, 11-5) in the dead rubber.
Saiesha, 14, said that their loss to MGS in the preliminary round taught them lessons in their and their opponents' weaknesses, which allowed them to strategise before the finals.
The Secondary Three student added: "This is definitely a very proud moment and I enjoyed the whole experience, especially because I got to bond with my seniors.
"NSG was really wholesome because you could hear the team cheering for you each match and we have karaoke sessions on our bus rides so it was a really good experience.
"I was a bit disheartened at first when it was announced that spectators weren't allowed, but I think the team covered it because it felt like the seats were full with everyone cheering so loudly."
For MGS, the wait for their first title since 2000 continues after losing four consecutive finals since 2017. The squash competition was not completed in 2020 because of the pandemic while last year's NSG did not feature the sport.
Still, Gracia and Natalie, both Secondary 4 students, were grateful for the chance to compete in their last NSG for MGS.
Gracia, 15, said: "The five-setters were really close and there was a huge chance for us to win them. But although we wanted to win the title, it was still a fun experience and I'm proud to represent my school.
"RGS played well and I'm happy to be able to make friends with players from other schools also. I've missed competing so much and NSG has brought the team closer too. Plus, it's important to have competitions to keep the players motivated."
Natalie, also 15, was happy that the team grew closer to one another and they plan to have a steamboat meal together after the tournament.
She added: "Those who were here cheered very loudly and knowing that people were watching us via livestream, that helped us play knowing that we were well-supported."