SINGAPORE - The stakes were high in the National C Division girls' squash final on Monday (July 25). Yet, Raffles Girls' School (RGS) coach Richard Koh took a bold approach as his side sought to dethrone three-time defending champions Methodist Girls' School (MGS).
The 69-year-old arranged for three of his top players to play the last three matches in the best-of-five final at the Kallang Squash Centre.
While the situation looked precarious after RGS lost the first two matches, the gamble eventually paid off as Taliah Cheong, Jeanette Ng and Anne Clarissa Wong won the last three matches to secure a comeback victory, which helped their school clinch their first title since 2015.
Koh was elated with the win and proud that his charges performed well. He had applied a similar strategy the last time both schools met in the preliminary round, when RGS also triumphed 3-2, with the same three players deployed in the last matches.
He said: "It was a tough decision. MGS have quite a few good players and so we took a bit of a risk putting this line-up. We were expecting the score to go either way and we didn't know what their line-up would be, so it's a bit of a lucky draw.
"I'm glad it came our way. Our (last) three players are stronger so it could have gone either way if our players didn't perform the way we expected them to. Fortunately, they played well and for that, I definitely congratulate them."
MGS started strong, racing to a 2-0 lead after Ong Zhe Sim and Joshika Ettikan Kandasamy comfortably beat their respective opponents without dropping a game.
It was then up to Taliah and Jeanette to keep their school's hopes alive and both delivered. Taliah beat Kate Yim 12-10, 11-7, 11-3 in 18 minutes while Jeanette sealed an 11-7, 11-3, 11-7 win over Stacia Lee in 21 minutes.
With the title on the line, RGS' last player Anne admitted she was nervous but managed to clear her mind and focus on the match.
She convincingly beat MGS' Chow Wenru 11-1, 11-5, 11-4 to spark off celebrations.
Anne, 14, said: "It was a really close match in the preliminary round, especially the last match that Taliah won, so we were a bit nervous today. But we kept to our strategy and played to our strengths.
"MGS have a lot of good players as well and they did a really good job. I knew I had to win my match and I told myself to fight for every point."
Taliah, 12, added: "I told myself that I could do it and to take it one point at a time. My teammates, coaches and teachers just told us to enjoy it and have fun and that there was no pressure to win.
"The cheers from the supporters also motivated me even more during the match and I'm glad I could make my school proud."
The win capped a season that had started off shakily for Taliah and Anne. Both had tested positive for Covid-19 and missed their school's first match against Singapore Chinese Girls' School (SCGS) - a 3-2 defeat on July 7. They returned to action a week later, in their preliminary-round win against MGS.
Taliah said the team's morale was a bit down when the duo were unavailable, adding: "I felt bad but I still cheered my teammates on. I'm happy that we managed to win today and I hope we can win again next year.
"Some of my teammates in my batch might not have as much competition experience so we will work on being more prepared next year so we don't feel so nervous."
After her first National School Games outing, MGS' Stacia, 13, is also looking ahead to next year, saying: "I put up a good fight but I could've done better. There are some skills that I need to improve on and I have to work on my mental strength.
"(Some things) during the game can affect you, especially under pressure, so hopefully the team can work together to improve our mental strength."'
Meanwhile, SCGS defeated National Junior College 5-0 to finish third in the four-team tournament.