Turning 18 is a milestone to be celebrated for most people. For softball player Sherman Lau Suet-man, however, all she could think about on her 18th birthday was her last All Hong Kong Inter-Secondary Schools Softball Competition.
The tournament finals took place on December 1 last year, which happened to be Sherman’s birthday. The Wong Shiu Chi Secondary School student was on tenterhooks, as she wanted to bring a perfect end to her interschool career by defending the school’s champion title in the Girls’ category, but it was by no means an easy task.
Wong Shiu Chi has dominated the school girls’ softball scene for years, but Heep Yunn School managed to catch up with them in recent years, snatching the title from the regular champion three times in the past decade.
Facing their old rival again in this year’s gold medal match, Sherman and her team pulled off a spectacular performance, crushing their opponent 7-2. One of the Wong Shiu Chi players even hit a home run, which was the very first one by a female player on the Shek Kip Mei Service Reservoir Playground field.
While Sherman thought her teammate deserved to be named the Most Valuable Player for her home run, she was taken aback when she heard her name being announced instead. The 18-year-old was selected for her consistent performance throughout the season, and the award became a meaningful gift for the birthday girl.
“It was totally unexpected, but I think they considered players’ performance in other games as well. To win a team trophy and an individual prize in my last year, I have no regrets," she said.
Apart from playing on the school team, Sherman is also a member of the Hong Kong women’s under 19 squad, but she said the school team will always hold a special place in her heart because it is where her softball journey began.
Thanks to her PE teacher who is a former softball player, Sherman had a chance to receive proper training and improved her game gradually. She started off as an outfielder, but when Sherman was in Form Two, her coach saw the potential her in taking up a bigger role and groomed her to become a pitcher.
“It is quite a stressful role. People often say 70 per cent of the chance of winning depends on pitchers,” she said.
At first Sherman struggled to make any progress in her new position. Her substandard performance almost cost her team a major game in the school league, but her teammates managed to keep them in the tournament. That game left Sherman questioning whether she was a fit for the sport.
“I thought of giving up, because I felt like all the time I spent on training was a waste,” Lau recalled.
Sherman was also having a hard time getting her family on board with her committing to the sport, which prioritised over her other hobbies.
“They thought girls shouldn’t be playing softball. They wanted me to continue with playing the piano, because I was preparing for my grade seven exam already.”
But it was the disapproval of her family that sparked the fire inside her. She made a significant leap after joining the national youth squad two years ago, where she learned new pitching styles and techniques and improved her fitness.
“With more coaches, I was given more choices and got to pick the style that suited me the most. We also competed overseas, so I was able to observe how other Asian teams play,” she said.
While the Form Six student is full steam ahead to ace her DSE, she’s making sure there’s time for her to connect with her sport, as she wants to return to her prime as soon as possible after the examination.
“I train at least once a week now. I’ve seen too many people who cut off their training hours for DSE and then failed to do well again,” she said.
As her days in the secondary school league has come to an end, Sherman is looking forward to participating in the inter-hall games at university and making the list for the senior national team.
“I’m not fit enough and I have to adjust my mentality so I can withstand the stress that comes with playing for the senior team. For now, I’m still quite happy with playing the sport just for fun.”