14 May 17 The Straits Times by MAY CHEN
Rather than allow the suffocating pressure to get to them, Singapore's youth netballers instead used their desire to break an unwanted 23-year streak as drive.
After five straight third-place finishes at the Asian Youth Netball Championship, the national 21 & Under team finally broke their duck yesterday to claim the title.
The third seeds beat Causeway rivals Malaysia 47-43 to be crowned champions in Jeonju, South Korea.
The victory was a breakthrough for Singapore at the biennial tournament. This was the Republic's first final since 1998, and a first championship since the inaugural edition in 1994.
Nur Aqilah Afiqah, who played in wing defence, told The Sunday Times shortly after their win in a phone interview: "It was a mix of both pressure and motivation, but my whole team was very hungry for the win.
"We improved a lot in working as a team since the Netball Super League season (last month). We peaked during this competition and our team effort and team work really made a difference."
Added national 21 & Under head coach Huang Po Chin: "The team had very strong belief in themselves.
"Obviously we were hungry as a team to get the title for Singapore, but in any case we were still focused on the process overall. While we were eyeing victory the girls really had to ensure they kept focus on good flow and converting each centre pass."
Composure played a big part in yesterday's result which came after Singapore had lost 50-53 to Malaysia during the group stage.
In the tightly-contested final, Singapore led 11-10 after the first quarter, fell 19-22 behind at the interval before levelling the match at 34-34 heading into the last quarter.
Singapore pulled away in that decisive period and built a 47-38 lead. But it demanded steady hands and minds to stave off a late comeback from the Malaysians. The second seeds scored five straight points in the dying minutes before the final whistle.
Said Aqilah, 21: "We just wanted to play our best. Even if we lost, we wanted to leave the court feeling good and knowing that we did all we could.
"So we brushed off the stress and just enjoyed the game. I'm very proud of my team for holding off the Malaysians."
Singapore had beaten top seeds and defending champions Sri Lanka 58-32 in the semi-finals on Friday.
The title will serve as a confidence booster as the team heads into preparations for the World Youth Cup in Botswana in July. Singapore finished 15th out of 20 teams at the last edition in Glasgow in 2013.
In the long run, it will also benefit the national team's development.
Netball Singapore chief executive Cyrus Medora, who accompanied the team to Jeonju, said: "It's been great to see the talent coming through.
"There are many good potential players coming through and we hope that the enhanced age group programmes that we have will give us an even stronger base in future."