Basketball: The country’s first women’s team defeated Bangladesh 61-29 at the first women’s South Asian Basketball (SABA) championship in Nepal on April 1.

The win, however, was a subdued victory. But the significance of the win was huge for the team.

Bhutan’s head coach, Sonam Tashi, said: “We went to the competition with two goals set at the back of our heads. The first goal was to represent the women’s team in their first ever international competition, and the second and the most important, to achieve the team’s first international win.”

But then, Bhutan lost three consecutive games at the championship. The team’s second goal was fading when they suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of regional giants such as Sri Lanka, Nepal and Maldives.

The third game against Maldives was comparatively on equal grounds as the two teams shared similar abilities. “We were at the same level and our girls put up a great fight against Maldives,” he said. “However, the crowd and nervousness got the best of our team after the second half and we could not get back in the game.”

Bhutan’s match against Maldives was a game for bronze. Lack of exposure and experience at the international level cost the team.

Sonam Tashi said that after failing to capitalise on the opportunity for bronze, his team came back strong to win their fourth and the final game against Bangladesh.

Team captain, Namzay Kumutha, said that the tournament was a great success for the team and, at the same time, an eye-opener for all the players.

“We realised that we had to improve not only in our basic skills, but also to have confidence to play on an international platform,” said Namzay. “We have a great team, but we realised that we still have so much to learn.”

She said that all the players were excited with their win as it was a historic achievement for the team. “But, as a team, we were not celebrating the win since we had lost a crucial game the previous day,” she said.

She added that with limited training sessions, players had a difficult time competing against the regional giants. But under the guidance and motivation of their coaches, the team was able to play against much-experienced teams such as Sri Lanka and Nepal.

The most valuable player of the Bhutanese team, Tshering Pem, who scored 27 points against Maldives, said that the tournament provided much-needed experience and exposure, not only to the team, but also to individual players.

“Every game was a learning experience for us,” said Tshering Pem. “With more such tournaments, the team will grow and produce better results in the near future.”

The Bhutanese team, which was formed only a few months ago, is still a work in progress. Sonam Tashi said that with most of the players comprising of college students and working women, it is difficult to maintain the same players in the team.

With better opportunities and support from the authorities concerned, Sonam Tashi said that the team has the potential to achieve greater successes in the future. He said that at the next SABA tournament, Bhutanese women have a very good chance of winning at least a bronze.

“I’m sure that in the next three to four years, women’s basketball in the country will not only have progressed, but we will also see increase in the number of participants,” said the captain of the team.

Younten Tshedup