With the OCBC Arena close to full capacity on Sunday (9 Sep), the 2018 Asian Netball Championships concluded a week of exciting, fast-paced action, with Sri Lanka going undefeated throughout the tournament to cement their position as the top team in Asia, having won the title five times in total.
The competition was certainly one to remember, for it was the biggest edition yet with a record number of 12 teams vying for the Cup – as well as tickets to next year’s Netball World Cup for the top two teams. President of Singapore, Halimah Yacob, also attended the finals match between Sri Lanka and Singapore.
The finals of the 2018 Asian Netball Championships saw Singapore (in red) taking on Sri Lanka. Photo: Sport Singapore
The newly minted Asian champions put on an excellent display to win 69-50 against a spirited home side, who battled hard to even the scoreline throughout the game.
“We played with confidence and believed in ourselves. We maintained our team bonding and used all the tactics from our coach. I’m really proud and very happy with our team,” said Sri Lanka’s team captain Chathurangi Jayasooriya, who also thanked opponents Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong for putting up outstanding displays.
Singapore’s co-vice captain Charmaine Soh shared more following the finals: “Only four of us remain from the last time that Singapore won the Asian Championships, in 2014. We’re quite a young team. Definitely, I’m very proud of everyone making it to the finals. We’ll do better the next time!”
Team Singapore at the victory ceremony with President Halimah Yacob (centre) and President of Netball Singapore Jessica Tan (left of President Halimah Yacob). Photo: Sport Singapore
The 28-year-old crowd favourite also expressed gratitude to the home crowd: “Every time we were down, we’d look to the crowd and there they were, cheering for us. It’s great motivation for all of us!”
The final day of matches saw teams playing for the Championships’ top eight positions throughout the day. Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan won their respective position play-offs to come in third, fifth, and seventh in the tournament. Thailand and Philippines were also named the Plate and Bowl winners respectively, according to the league standings.
Almost 3,000 spectators turned up to witness the action, including Leslie Tan, who had been introduced to the sport when his 11-year-old daughter began playing it at school.
The 50-year-old enthused: “Other than [my daughter’s] school games, this is the first time I’m watching a netball match. I didn’t realise that netball could be this exciting! I’m absolutely impressed with the [Singapore] team, especially their fighting spirit. This is what Singapore is about - it’s amazing!”
Sri Lanka celebrating their win. Photo: Sport Singapore
21-year-old Kanishka Wickramanyake, who was cheering for the Sri Lankan side with his family, also shared: “My mother is always watching netball, but this is my first time. At first, I was thinking that it would be like basketball, but it’s completely different. It’s very interesting and competitive!”
Newcomers weren’t the only ones enjoying their experience; long-time netball enthusiasts were also in for a treat this year with the competition’s new format, which set up more close matches to watch. These included a particularly nail-biting one when Singapore posted a narrow 56-55 win against Malaysia during Saturday’s semi-finals.
Netball fan Ivy Lai (first from right) and family enjoyed the action on court. Photo: Sport Singapore
As 38-year-old Ivy Lai, who used to play netball during her school days, remarked: “[The standard of competition] is very high! The netballers are really getting taller and the teams all played very fast-paced games. I’ve managed to catch some very exciting matches.”
Commenting on the development of the sport in Asia, Singapore’s head coach Natalie Milicich elaborated: “The competition is really growing. Having 12 teams here will only grow the depth of netball in the Asian region. The more opportunities we get to travel overseas and compete against those stronger nations, the stronger it’s going to make us as well.”
“We’ve gone through a rebuilding stage, we’ve also introduced very young players into the squad. We had some really good lessons throughout this week, and I think we’ll only be stronger as we head over to [the World Cup] in July next year.”