Ashley Han's rise to the top of the schools' volleyball scene took a detour through the school of hard knocks.
It was also why victory tasted twice as sweet.
The 16-year-old Dunman Secondary School blocker finally reaped the rewards of six years of hard work as she helped her team to the East Zone and National B Division volleyball titles this year.
In the process, the 1.74m-tall lass emerged as one of the best performers in the side.
Not bad for a Secondary Four student who was once deemed too "lousy" by her peers, and cruelly labelled as a "burden".
She was hurt at that time, although she also felt that the criticisms were not entirely unjustified.
"Of course it hurts to be told that you'll ruin the school's reputation," said Ashley, of the days when she first joined Dunman's volleyball team in Secondary One.
"But holding grudges won't help your team, and the seniors who criticised me also approached me to tell me how I could improve."
Ashley's interest in the sport began in 2008, after watching a Beijing Olympics volleyball match that year on television.
Then a 10-year-old pupil at East Spring Primary School, she decided to take up volleyball as a Co-Curricular Activity (CCA).
Even then, her decision was met with scepticism from her parents, who did not believe Ashley's commitment to the sport would last longer than a month.
"I changed CCAs every month," said Ashley, who had brief stints in choir, art club and wushu before that.
"My parents were sure I would quit after a month, but I was also sure I would prove them wrong."
Prove them wrong she did. But bigger tests awaited her.
As recent as two years ago, she lost 23 points in a match, to become a standing joke among her teammates. It was her worst personal statistic, she said.
Referring to pop star Taylor Swift's song "22", Ashley said: "When my teammates make fun of me, they'll say it should be 22 plus one.
"But it's okay, because we're a very close team. Besides, I've gained the points back and redeemed myself this year."
Last year, she also succumbed to the pressure of being one of the youngest players in the B Division team.
Her poor display, she admitted, cost her team a place in the top four of the Nationals.
But Ashley by then had already made a habit of rising from dejection. And her perseverance shone through.
She also feels that she could not have pulled through the disappointment without her teammates.
Recalling that "terrible" period, she said: "I kept blaming myself for the loss, because I felt bad.
"So I decided to train harder over the past year, so that we could achieve our goal of winning the championship this year.
"It's my last year in Dunman... if we didn't win the championship this time, who knows when we'll get to win the next one together?"
This article was first published on June 4, 2015.
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