Eager to make home ground count
National women's hockey team to start mission to exorcise demons from 2013 SEA Games
Laura Tan was a toddler the last time the South-east Asia (SEA) Games was hosted in Singapore in 1993.
But like everyone associated with hockey, she is well aware of the gold medal exploits of Melanie Martens and her golden generation at that Games.
The vice captain of the national women's team vows they will take history in their stride, if comparisons are drawn when the biennial Games arrives in Singapore next June.
In 1993, Martens led the team to Singapore's first and only SEA Games women's hockey gold.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Tan, 23, said: "We don't really feel the pressure even though the Games will be at home; in fact, it will be nice having our family and friends watch us.
"For sure we want at least a medal. It is our medal to lose, instead of one we need to get - it's not out of our reach."
The Singapore women are ranked 48th in the world; besides Malaysia (21) and Thailand (53) there are no other Asean teams on the world ladder.
But the pain of the 2013 SEA Games is something Tan remembers vividly.
The Singapore women were expected to return with a medal, but lost 4-2 to Thailand in their last pool game to finish fourth.
They were then beaten by Myanmar - which only recently picked up the sport - 1-0 in the bronze-medal match.
Tan said: "I remember seeing the ball roll in for the Myanmar goal - it was very painful.
"We were attacking the entire game and they were just putting their bodies on the line. We couldn't put the ball in."
That defeat, admitted head coach Coen van Putten, has placed more pressure on his charges.
The Dutchman said: "We want to prove that we are one of the top two teams in the region, and that gives more pressure than what the women did in 1993.
"The landscape has changed significantly since then, and it wouldn't be fair (to compare the two teams)."
The women are gearing up for the International Hockey Federation's (FIH) World League Round 1 (see box) from June 21 to 26 at the Sengkang Hockey Stadium, and they want to start fixing their goalscoring woes there.
"We're not expecting to win, but we want to be competitive," said van Putten.
The team have seen changes since the Myanmar SEA Games.
Some senior players have left the side, leaving a team with an average age of almost 21 years.
"This team are very welcoming, they've made me feel at home very quickly, even though I joined only in March," said 22-year-old Tan Si Jing.
It is this togetherness that the vice-captain believes will carry them forward.
"The team are quite different now, it's a good kind of different," said Tan.
"There's more unity and better balance in the team... and we want to set things right and win a medal at the next SEA Games."
When we lost the 2013 SEA Games bronze to Myanmar we took it very badly as we weren’t supposed to lose.
- S’pore women’s hockey team vicecaptain Laura Tan
Women set sights on a SEA Games medal
Unlike their male counterparts, the Republic's hockey women will not come under Sport Singapore's programme for additional funding, geared towards the South-east Asia (SEA) Games, held here from June 5 to 16 next year.
But women's head coach Coen van Putten believes the side can win a medal on home soil, even if the women's game is suffering from a dearth of talent.
"The women have potential, but generally speaking, Singapore has a lack of talent," said van Putten, bemoaning the lack of a progressive talent identification and development programme here.
"We could do more with more money although there is enough to run a decent programme, but (still) there's not so much I can do except to work with what we've got here."
The Dutchman came on board in April last year, and his charges have played one tournament after another, a situation he insists isn't the most ideal for development.
The women failed to win a medal at the 2013 SEA Games, falling 1-0 in the bronze-medal match to a Myanmar side that picked up the sport only recently.
But since then, Coen has been pleased with his team's development.
"We've done things a little differently, investing time in strength and conditioning, psychology and skills development, and I've been happy with that," he said, revealing that there has also been a rejuvenation of the team, with younger players joining the fray and older ones stepping aside.
In a couple of weeks the new-look national team will face their first competitive test since the SEA Games, at the FIH World League Round 1 (see box), but they will have a few friendly matches before that - Hong Kong (June 15), Malaysia (June 19) and Kazakhstan (June 20) - to fine-tune their systems.
And van Putten is optimistic.
"The players are very committed, they work very hard, and there is a good atmosphere in the team," he said.
"What gives me confidence is that they choose to be part of this and they know what needs to be done."
FIH World League Round 1
Sengkang Hockey Stadium (Entrance is free)
Pool A: Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka
Pool B: Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Myanmar
The biennial World League was launched in 2012 and is an avenue for nations to qualify for either the FIH World Cup or the Olympics. World ranking points are also at stake.
The competition will be played over four rounds, with the first round featuring teams ranked 20 and below in the FIH world rankings.