WHITE LIGHT STUDIO
The Nepali women gather into a huddle in the middle of the court at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka. More than athletes they look like models straight out of a fashion magazine: hair neatly tied, eyes lined with kohl, lips painted bright red, and pink cheeks. The other teams even nicknamed the players 'little dolls' for being the most decked up and shortest team on court. However, once the whistle blew, the teenage girls transform into a professional unit and pack a powerful punch.
Despite being the newest kids on the block and not having a strong reputation coming into the tournament, the Nepali women's netball team quickly became one of the most popular teams at the Asian Netball Championship held in Sri Lanka in August. The little dolls faced nine consecutive loses and did not bag the trophy, but were successful in winning the hearts of fans and opponents alike.
"We don't have any regrets about the losses. No matter the score difference or the end result, we gave our best shot and didn't lose hope till the end and it is what matters the most," says 20-year-old captain Mala Limbu who is a model by profession. The fighting spirit paid off when the team won their last match against Pakistan.
The team of 18 to 22 year olds was put together six weeks before the tournament. Due to time constraints, most of players were selected from the national basketball team since netball is very similar to basketball. Tarli Young and Micheal Norwood who volunteered to coach the team recall spending countless hours watching YouTube videos and taking rigorous notes on tactics and moves. The players, out of which only three had played netball before, trained for six days a week for two months.
"We even got our hands dirty, lifting kick-bags, mats and heavy taekwondo equipment from the court as we shared the same court for practice. But none of the girls ever hesitated to go the extra mile," recalls Limbu who is a model by profession.
Until three months ago, netball was a game heard by few and played by even less in Nepal. But Deepak Lama's determination to bring the game to the country made the formation of a national netball team possible. Lama found out about the sport through a friend in Australia, where the game is immensely popular.
"I love sports and I have been active in Nepali sports for some time now. I feel like netball will catch on quickly because basketball is so popular already," he says. He contacted the Asian chapter of the International Federation of Netball Association that made Nepal a representative. Within a few months the Nepal Sports Council officially recognised the National Netball Association. Lama who is now the general secretary of the newly formed Nepal Netball Association, aims to encourage more youngsters by introducing the game in schools and colleges.
"The girls performed much better than we expected and it was a great opportunity for them to gain exposure. With better training we hope they will progress to the top three in the next tournament which will then encourage other Nepali girls and boys to join the sports," explains Lama with an eye to the future.
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