Vanessa proves her mettle

PENANG’S young squash sensation Vanessa Raj helped herself to what can be described as a ‘perfect’ morale booster as she continued to dominate her arch-rival Rachel Arnold of Selangor.

The 16-year-old St George’s Girls School lass, who was left in tatters after a sprained neck during the first leg of the CIMB Junior Squash circuit, successfully made up for the disappointment when she powered her way to a grand double in the just concluded National School (MSSM) championship in Penang.

The Form Four student, who achieved a double finish in the Girls Under-15 during the 2009 MSSM, was determined to repeat the feat this year.

Coupled with that frustration of being denied a final ticket to the first leg of the National Circuit due to injuries, she was driven into overdrive when the MSSM championship was held in Penang.

It worked out perfectly for the lass and the moment she set up a final showdown against Rachel, who was crowned the Under-19 champion of the National Junior circuit in her absence just two weeks before, Vanessa firmly set ‘fire’ to the Nicol David International Squash Centre.

Driven by the determination of wanting to make amends, she smashed her way to the Under-18 crown after a titanic five-set thriller.

Her 11-6, 11-5, 9-11, 4-11, 11-5 win, not only allowed her to go three-up on Rachel, but also kept her dreams of a double finish intact.

Even when the luck of the draw for the inter-team challenge pitted both Penang and Selangor in the same half, Vanessa was unfazed.

With both teams clashing in the semi-finals, Vanessa and her team mate Celine Yeap firmly confirmed Penang the final ticket with a come-from-behind 2-1 win.

With the up-and-coming Lim Jee Nee suffering a 3-2 to Mahhila Tamilarasan at 7-11, 13-15, 11-7, 11-7, 8-11, Vanessa trooped in to put Penang on the level with her 11-7, 11-7, 11-3 win over Rachel.

Celine later handed Jadeleen Lee a straight set beating at seven, one and three, it was enough to put Penang into a final showdown against the Kedah team who they easily disposed off 2-0 to put their double quest into reality.

“Our success of a double finish in this MSSM challenge is surely the best antidote to help me make up for that disappointment in the opening leg of the National Junior Circuit.

“It did not only mean a second double in the MSSM, but my good run over Rachel will be most inspiring in my coming challenge in the 2nd Leg of the CIMB National Juniors circuit to be held in Ipoh next month,” said Vanessa.

Celine, who was the Under-15 singles champ in the MSSM challenge at Alor Setar last year, was equally overjoyed with Penang’s double feat on Friday.

“It was not an easy task. But what made this especially meaningful for us was to be able to make all Penangites proud since we were the hosts to this edition of the National School championship.

“But if there is a match I would also treasure, it has to be that Individual semi-final clash against Rachel. Though I failed to win, to be able to take a set off Rachel, was satisfying enough,” she said.

Celine, who was beaten 11-8, 11-2, 7-11, 14-12 in the semi-final clash, was comparing her performance to the straight set defeat she suffered to the Selangor lass when they met in the Girls Under-19 final of the National Junior Circuit.

However, Kedah were not to be denied their moment of glory. Despite the defeat to Penang, they did enough to retain the overall crown, which they won when hosting last year’s MSSM squash challenge.

Showing that they were on the right track in the development of their young talents, the Kedahans not only achieved their four-title target but went on to emerge as winners of the overall crown.

Picking up two Individual titles, the Boys Under-12 and the Girls Under-15, they helped themselves to two more titles in the Girls Under-12 and Under-15 Inter-team challenge.

Letting slip the Boys Under-12 and Under-15, and the Girls Under-18 challenge, in which they were the runners-up, did not matter as they already did enough to be crowned overall champs.

Kedah got a massive 51 points to finish 30 points ahead of second-placed Sarawak, while hosts Penang with 18 points took the third spot.

Kedah team contingent leader Abdul Nasir Abdul Rahman had reason to walk tall when curtains came down on the annual national school challenge.

“What made me proud is that my athletes displayed that special determination to enable us to achieve our four-title target.

“I know it could have been better but the fact that we made it to five of the six inter-team finals is already a huge bonus since we were only anticipating our Girls Under-12 and Under-15 sides to make the cut.

“Our gallant march is the result of hard work and a fighting spirit,” he said.

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