National floorballer Siti Nurhaliza joins Czech champions Vitkovice
Forward, 20, joins Czech champions Vitkovice, becoming their first Asian import
National floorball player Siti Nurhaliza Khairul Anuar had always dreamt of playing in Europe ever since she picked up the sport as a student at Bukit Merah Secondary School.
For years, she thought it would be just fantasy. But this week, the 20-year-old national floorballer will be making her dream come true.
She will be flying to the Czech Republic tomorrow to join SC Tempish Vitkovice, five-time champions of the eastern European country's top-tier women's league, the Extraliga.
The fleet-footed forward was offered a season-long contract to play for the semi-pro outfit in Ostrava, after impressing in a friendly against them in Prague last month.
Siti was there with the Singapore women's floorball team who took part in the Czech Open, when Finnish club Eraviikingit invited her and five of her national teammates to play against Vitkovice.
"I wasn't sure if Vitkovice really wanted me because there were so many better players. I was doubting myself," said the Republic Polytechnic sport and exercise science graduate, after a training session with her local club NUS Titans last Saturday.
But the forward's pace, panache and prowess left a deep impression on Vitkovice player development manager Jiri Velecky, who expressed interest.
National women's coach Louise Khng promptly sent him clips of Siti's matches and her fitness records.
Since her international debut last June, Siti has scored 13 goals in just 14 appearances for Singapore. In the ongoing local Women's Premier League, she has also racked up 25 goals and 16 assists in 12 games for NUS Titans.
An impressed Velecky returned with an offer just a few days later, making Siti the club's first Asian import.
Velecky told The New Paper: "She has our big respect, that she wants to try it. We know that... it will be a big change for her."
Vitkovice president Tomas Krasny added in a press release: "We are aware that Siti comes from a completely different floorball environment, society and culture. She will be a great revival not only on the pitch, but also outside it...
"For us, it is important that she is a player with a right(-sided) stick which is lacking in the Czech market."
Out of their 20 outfield players last season, Vitkovice had only four players who play with right-sided blades. Siti will replace one of them, Polish forward Justyna Krzywak, who left the club prematurely for school.
Vitkovice will cover Siti's flights, transport and accommodation costs, and offer her a monthly food allowance.
The club will also help her find a job during her seven-month stint. Nearly all their players are studying or have a day job.
They will also allow her to return for the SEA Games floorball competition in the Philippines from Nov 25 to Dec 1 and the World Floorball Championships in Switzerland from Dec 7 to 15, when four of her Vitkovice teammates will be representing the Czech Republic.
She will then return to club duty to finish the 12-team league, which ends in April.
"I feel proud and honoured for this chance but it is quite pressurising because not many people (in Singapore) get an opportunity like this," said Siti.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge for me because it's a new environment and their way of training is different and more intense. I will have to play catch-up especially with gymming.
"But I want to cherish every moment there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I don't know if a second one will come along."
SINGAPOREANS IN EUROPE
Siti will become the fourth Singaporean to play in the big-four floorball leagues of Europe.
Veteran forward Jill Quek blazed a trail when she played in Sweden's top league for Orebo in 2000. A year later, she and her younger sister, Martha, joined second-tier side Hasselby.
In 2007, Emily Koh joined Korska in Finland's top league.
Siti could make her debut on Sept 14, when Vitkovice start their new season against Itelligence Bulldogs Brno.
Khng believes that Siti has what it takes to adapt to their high-tempo style, describing her as "an eager, receptive player with a flair for the game".
She said: "I urge her to enjoy the experience and... learn from different perspectives and environments."