National netball coach Milicich: We can match Malaysia
New netball coach confident of transforming team to challenge rivals at Asian Ch'ship next year
A month ago, Asian champions Malaysia brushed past Singapore 65-41 to win the SEA Games netball gold medal on home ground, and cemented their reputation as the continent's top team.
Singapore's new national coach Natalie Milicich watched that game on YouTube, and she believes that her team will be able to match, or even beat their Causeway rivals at the next Asian Championship, which will be held here next September.
This, despite the fact that the 50-year-old New Zealander has taken only two training sessions with the team since she started in her current role a week ago.
"I absolutely believe that (we can match or beat Malaysia)," Milicich told The New Paper yesterday on the sidelines of a Netball Singapore luncheon at Park Hotel Farrer Park.
"I do a lot of pressure training... and I have coping strategies for different situations.
"We will look at those coping strategies and pressure-cooker stuff in training."
The former head coach and performance manager of New Zealand's Netball Central Zone team will have her work cut out for her.
Since experienced campaigners Micky Lin, Premila Hirubalan and Chen Huifen retired in May last year, ex-Singapore coach Ruth Aitken and subsequently, caretaker national coach Yeo Mee Hong had called up and tried different players and combinations.
However, both of them failed to find the magic formula at the 2016 Asian Championship and 2017 SEA Games campaigns.
Milicich has a year to work her magic on the squad before the Asian Championship, where the two top will qualify for the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool.
The Singapore job is also Milicich's first as the trainer of a national side, after she became a career netball coach two years ago. But, although she had been a finance manager for 15 years before that, she had served in various coaching roles during the period.
These include a stint as former New Zealand coach Yvonne Willering's assistant at the Northern Mystics in the first year of the ANZ Championship in 2008, as well as coaching stints at various secondary schools and Under-23 teams.
But Milicich, a mother of four, believes her experience in nurturing young talents will serve her well in a Singapore side going through a transition.
She said: "That's why I think the fit (between the team and me) is so good. I have done a lot of work developing younger players, and their readiness for the national level.
"(I am) not coming into a team that have been here forever, with a lot of experience, which is sort of a good way to come in because they would have no preconceived ideas or ways of going about things."
Milicich, who has also worked with former Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu, will be able to count on the support and advice of two other ex-New Zealand coaches - both Aitken and Willering recommended her for the Singapore job.
Milicich said: "Yes, I haven't had international experience but I've got a lot of people who support me, and people around me who, I believe, trust that I can do the job as well. That gives me confidence."
What the team and netball fans here can certainly count on is her drive to excel, which was evident when she spoke about her pursuit of her sports degree when she made the career switch two years ago.
She said: "I didn't want to just pass; I wanted to pass with honours, which is what I did, because if you want to do something, you make sure you focus all your energy into it to ensure that you are successful."