In a year when nothing went according to plan, the Singaporean cager shares how she stays motivated through all the obstacles brought about by the pandemic.
It was supposed to be her exciting debut season playing Division 1 basketball in the United States’ National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Patriot League – the country’s most competitive level of college basketball.
At just 19 years old, Ariel Loiter is the first Singaporean to play basketball at the Division 1 level. To put things into perspective, she is among just 1.3 per cent of US high school women’s basketball players to compete in the division.
She had netted a prestigious full scholarship at Colgate University, an Ivy League school where she plans to major in Psychology, while playing in women’s basketball team The Raiders as shooting guard and point guard.
However, her freshman year at university was anything but smooth-sailing due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Nothing was certain last year,” she says. “Decisions to everything related to our season, from training to games’ structures and schedules, were updated and changed regularly. We learned about our season plans as weeks were progressing, most of the time right before they were implemented, including our conference games.”
Summer training, which typically takes place for five weeks in June and July, was completely cancelled. So were their preseason games in November and December. After undergoing a school-wide 14-day mandatory quarantine in August, individual training became the norm for weeks before The Raiders could hold their first full team training in late November, almost three months after moving into campus.
Moreover, they ended up pulling out of the competition after a majority of the team suffered injuries due to overstress. “We were left with three healthy players towards the end of the regular season. We played 10 games as opposed to 32 in a regular year.”
Yet, the tenacious and self-motivated athlete did not let these difficulties faze her. “Ever since I was young, I’ve had personal training on a daily basis. So as long as I have access to a rim and a ball, I’m able to put in the work,” she shares. “In addition, the significant academic workload took up a good part of my day too.”
She continues, “With all the uncertainties and everything affected by the pandemic, I have learned to appreciate what we could do rather than be disappointed by the shortfalls. I was happy we had some kind of season in the first place.”
Basketball-related woes aside, Ariel also had to deal with missing her loved ones, whom she kept in contact with via FaceTime multiple times a day.
“My entire first year of college was full of setbacks resulting from the pandemic, but the truly toughest one was not being able to see my family,” Ariel shares. “It’s tough to be so far away, but mentally I was prepared for it. It’s a sacrifice I knew I had to make if I wanted to achieve my goals.”
While she makes it look effortless, Ariel’s journey to playing NCAA Division 1 basketball was certainly no fluke. Behind her success lies hours and hours of discipline, dedication and hard work honing her skills.
“A key to mastering skills is driven through repetition and developing muscle memory. For years, on top of my training, I would make 1,000 shots a day from different positions on the court, spend 30 minutes a day doing different ball handling drills, as well as study different basketball players that play the same position as me,” she shares.
Ariel’s passion for basketball began when she was just eight years old. While she had always been an active child – before basketball, her extracurricular activities included piano, swimming, tennis, dance and horse-riding – she “fell in love with the game” after attending a trial class.
She credits her coach for helping to develop her love and passion for the sport, in which she felt especially drawn to its team culture and competitive element. “Basketball revealed to me personality traits that I never realised I had. The more I learned and developed, the more I wanted to use these skills to compete.”
Four months later, Ariel quit all other activities and devoted all her free time to basketball. She dreamed of competing i America’s NCAA Division 1, saying, “I felt that in order to fulfill my full potential, I needed to compete at the highest level.”
In 2013, she joined the national youth basketball programme, and was drafted into the Singapore Women’s National Team in 2017 at only 15 years old. A year later, she enrolled at IMG Academy, a renowned sports training destination and boarding school in Florida, to fulfil her dream of pursuing a sports career.
While most of her basketball goals for last year’s season could not be fulfilled, Ariel sees them as only temporary setbacks. “I remained focused on doing what I could to get better, learn, and adapt. I am living my dream, and I believe that the hardships help me grow as a person too.”
She is also grateful for her family who supports her in every way. “But they also stressed that this is my journey and I should be the one driving it.”
For now, she aims to focus on her studies and collegiate basketball performance. After college, she wants to continue playing pro and perhaps even pursue a Masters in either psychology or business. “In the longer term, I plan to remain involved in the sports industry but keeping my mind open as to how,” she adds.
Ariel considers it “a great honour and responsibility” to represent Singapore overseas as an athlete. For young Singaporeans who want to pursue a sports career, she believes more needs to be done to develop a stronger local sports culture and competitive environment. Nonetheless, she hopes that her achievements can inspire young local athletes to chase their passion and goals.
“Set your goals high and work hard to achieve them each day. Be focused and determined. Don’t let any setbacks sway you from them.”
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