Lili now a leader in the Singapore netball team
With the 'loss' of key duo, utility player Lili is thrown in at the deep end in S'pore's title defence
ASIAN NETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
SINGAPORE v TAIWAN
(Today, 6pm, Bangkok National Stadium)
She has just crossed half a century of international caps, and Chen Lili will be stepping up as a leader on court for the first time at the Asian Netball Championship in Bangkok.
The 1.96m-tall player, usually a defender and occasionally a shooter, used to rely on the knowledge and instructions of experienced campaigners like Micky Lin and Premila Hirubalan in defence.
Both Hirubalan and Lin have retired from the national team and Chen, 26, with 51 caps, will have to step up with captain Vanessa Lee in defence, as Singapore look to win their third Asian title in a row, after 2012 and 2014.
"It was quite uncomfortable at first, because in the past I would rely on the experience of Micky and Premila and there wasn't a need to think too much on court," said Chen, during a training session at the OCBC Arena earlier this week.
"Now, I have to stand up and play a bit differently... and when I come across situations that I have to fix, I would think back on what Micky and Prem would do in these situations."
Other than Chen and captain Lee, who is 32 and has 57 caps, the other players in the Republic's defensive group are Under-21 "graduates" Shina Teo (five caps) and Aqilah Andin (25 caps).
Coach Ruth Aitken said: "Lili has stepped up and it has been good for her, because.... she has over 50 caps now and it's time to bring it."
With the retirements of Lin, Hirubalan and goal assist Chen Huifen, Aitken has drafted a relatively inexperienced squad; other than Chen and Lee, only co-vice captains Charmaine Soh (57) and Nurul Baizura (71) have crossed half a century in caps.
Two players, Zhang Ailin and Josephine Yeo, are uncapped.
Aitken has focused on communication and chemistry between players during a training trip to Fiji last month, and in the SilkPro National League, which just concluded last Saturday.
While the team are still seeking consistency as a whole, Aqilah and Lee said they are coming together.
Aqilah, 20, said: "At first, we weren't used to playing with each other, but I feel we have improved quite a bit from where we started, and definitely the chemistry is much stronger now."
Captain Lee added: "It's not that we are inexperienced, we just need to get into everyone's headspace. We have really built a lot of chemistry together during training and during National League."
Aitken's team, ranked 17th in the world, will start their title defence today against world No. 33 Taiwan.
But the former Silver Ferns coach will be taking nothing for granted, as Taiwanese counterpart Goh Seck Tuck knows Singapore netball intimately, having coached the Sneakers Stingrays in the Super League here for years.
Aitken said: "Because we are an inexperienced team we have to really focus to make sure that we deliver.
"The reality is that when you're experienced, you can kind of ease off a little bit and you know how to (step up).
"Some of these girls have never performed under that pressure, so they can't just chill out nicely and think they can turn it on because they will have no idea whether they can turn it on or not.
"So they need to be doing the business from day one."