By Benjamin Lim (19S03I) and Ng Ziqin (20S03H)
Photos by Benjamin Lim (19S03I) and Megan Toh (20S03N) from Raffles Photographic Society
The Raffles spectator stands were a sea awash with students in house shirts. They were cheering, they were screaming, they were waving green/black/white inflatable clappers. The Student Councillors and RI Y1-4 prefects, clad in green, were leading supporters in the more popular (and more memorable) school cheers like Raffles Dynamite and Say Ra. Vibrant white lights glared down from the high ceilings, sharpening the technicolour reds, blues, blacks and greens of the players’ uniforms. The atmosphere felt charged, crackling with an energy that verged on visibility.
To bag the championship trophy and defend their 15-year and 8-year long streaks (for the Boys’ and Girls’ Teams respectively), the two Raffles Table Tennis teams would have to defeat Hwa Chong Institution (HCI)—a long-time and formidable rival—at Our Tampines Hub.
Both the Boys’ and the Girls’ Table Tennis Finals involves three Singles and two Doubles matches, where each Single/Double match would consist of five consecutive games. To win a match, the Rafflesian teams would have to win three out of the five games, which would prove to be hard against redoubtable opponents.
The finals began well for the Boys’ Team, with vice-Captain Shawn Chua (19S03N) winning the first Singles within three games. His sheer confidence and great ability (exhibited through his returning of extremely low service balls and high balls) gave strength and hope to the Rafflesian supporters who cheered the team on, with the chants of “Let’s Go Raffles, Let’s Go!” resonating brightly and clearly in the packed arena.
Within the large supporter base for our Boys’ Team, Marsha Shahrin (19S02A) and Benjamin Yew (19S06R), who had both rushed down to the competition venue after their tutorials ended, explained how they “came down because they wanted to support their classmate and good friend Lee Yong Ning (19S02A)”.
Empowered by the supporters’ chants and cheers, the Boys’ Team became even more motivated to bring pride back to the school, and fought even harder for the golden trophy. Though the subsequent Doubles match with captain Lucas Seah (19S03T) and Chan Junhe (20S06N), who played against formidable opponents, was lost to HCI 3-1, this did not shake the team, who saw the setback as inspiration to fight back harder. Cheers from both the Boys’ Team and the stands further fueled this motivation.
Dominic Koh (20S06M), who played the next Singles, was ruthless and unforgiving. The usually imperceptible sounds of the paddle hitting the ball were made audible—a testament to his strength.
The next match would prove to be critical in determining the fates between the two institutions. If the next Doubles (played Gong Dong Dong (20S06E) and Jensen Koh Wei (20A03A)) was lost to HCI, the overall score would be at 2-2, resulting in another Singles match—which would generate even more uncertainty in predicting which party would be victorious.
With both the RI and HCI teams fighting valiantly, the fourth match was certainly more fierce than the previous three. As the scores for both teams rose one after the other in close pursuit, there was no one team that lead the scoreboard for long.
Each game ended off in a deuce (a situation in which both teams are at matchpoint, and the winning score is increased by two points), and with Raffles narrowly winning the first and third games.
During the fourth set of the final match, Dong Dong and Jensen managed to persevere and maintain their poise. Each low-ball was deflected back to the opponents, and each smash duly returned. This intensity continuously built up as HCI’s Table Tennis team also returned the Rafflesian team’s smashes. Spurred by the supporters’ cheers, Dong Dong and Jensen eventually won 13-11, thus clinching the championship trophy and bringing the Boys’ side of the National School Games to a close.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the blue Nittaku dividers, the A Division girls were holding the fort against the HCI Girls’ Team. This was probably the question on everyone’s minds: Would the defending champions come out on top once again?
Captain Dorothea Ban (19S06A) won the first Singles game with ease, taking the win for her team after the first three games. Next came Doubles pair Megan Tan (20S03I) and Flora Wan (20S06P) who also put up a strong fight, though they lost 1-3 against the HCI team.
Third-match Singles player, Li Qinan (20S06P) was warming up in the ring outside the playing area, bouncing nimbly from foot to foot as she conferred with her coach. Minutes later, she walked into the arena, determination splashed across her face like warpaint.
With superhuman speed, she reached out for several balls that would have seemed too far or too high for the average human. Like Wonder Woman’s metal bracelets, her paddle deflected every strong ball that her opponent hit at her. The referee kept flipping cards, the numbers kept climbing up on both sides, and before anyone knew it, RI had won the game with a score of 11-8.
The players had to switch sides for the second game, each player standing in front of their opponent’s teammates. Game 2 ended with the scores being exactly reversed, 8-11, in HCI’s favour.
The players switched sides yet again before the third game, where RI trounced HCI decisively with a score of 11-2. Then the fourth game, which evoked a sense of deja vu when HCI beat RI 11-5. By this time, this reporter was convinced that there was something seriously wrong with the side of the table further from the RI spectators; the player who started from that side always seemed to lose.
In any case, with the scores tied at 2-2, the fifth game would determine the outcome of the match. RI won 11-6, narrowly winning the match 3-2. Li Qinan pumped her right fist and yelled “SOH!” every time she scored a point.
“It’s just to show your 气势 (Chinese for ‘momentum’). Different players yell different things. Another common one is ‘Joleh!’,” explained Dai Yuting (20S03H), a member of the table tennis team, when asked what her teammate’s spirited exclamation meant.
Her match done and dusted, Li Qinan climbed out of the playing area, making way for her teammates Cayla Tan (20S03J) and Lydia Jiang (19S03K) to take centre stage. HCI had won one match. RI had won two. Would this be the last match of the competition? The suspense in the air was stifling.
The scene was reminiscent of a World War I battleground. The narrow strip on either side, demarcated by the ubiquitous Nittaku barriers, were the trenches. Meanwhile, the playing area in the middle was No Man’s Land. Every point, every game, every match won, an inch of territory earned, counting towards the final victory.
As the last Doubles pair, Cayla and Lydia played valiantly, showing remarkable chemistry as they fended off their opponents’ fast balls in tandem. Their talent was evident from the execution of several masterful shots which hit the edge of the table. Despite close calls and minor setbacks, such as in the third game which ended off in a deuce that RI lost 10-12, the pair played on with composure and confidence.
The final game of the final match ended with the RI team’s 11-6 victory. Emotions were running high. The RI girls could not contain their excitement—the instant the eleventh point was scored, they rushed from the sidelines into the competition zone, crashing through the blue barriers in their way as if they were flimsy cardboard dividers to swarm their teammates in celebration.
After all, what could man-made barriers possibly count for against the combined forces of nine jubilant girls?
Said Dorothea Ban (19S06A), the Girls’ Team Captain, about her team’s victory: “I have no words. Everyone has played very, very well and I’m very proud of everybody. It’s been a tough journey since the start of season and everyone has worked hard. I’m really proud of it. No words are enough to describe how happy I’m feeling right now.”
The Girls’ team had successfully defended their status as the Table Tennis champions for the eighth year running. But beyond the stellar results, behind the overexposed lighting, between the Nittaku dividers, brewed a very real, very heartwarming story.
It is this reporter’s opinion that when you get to the heart of it, there is very little difference between sports and art. If the tournament were a symphony, then the table tennis’ girls’ spirited refrain of “All the way!”–which they shouted from the sidelines through every game until their voices were hoarse and their throats sore–would be the persistent, underlying ostinato, telling an evocative story of teamwork.
Since both the A Division girls’ and boys’ matches concluded early, members of both RI A division teams headed two courts down to cheer on the RI B Division boys, who were playing against the HCI B Division boys’ team in the last match of the day. They were joined also by the Y5-6 spectators, as well as the table tennis players and supporters from Raffles Girls’ School. It was truly a sight to behold, as Rafflesians from RGS, RI Y1-4 and Y5-6 stood united behind the RI B Division team, alternating between chants of “All the Way!” and “Fight Back!”.
“It was the first time in my five years of [attending] match support that RGS, RI Y1-4 and Y5-6 banded together to cheer together as one big Rafflesian family,” said Jeremy Lee (20S03H), whose class had been designated to attend the table tennis match as their match support activity. “They didn’t need Councillors or PB to tell them to cheer. They did it themselves. It was quite amazing.”
Summing up the Table Tennis Finals in 2019: There was hard work. There was teamwork. There was sportsmanship, and there was showmanship. As far as entertainment is concerned, who could ask for more? Will next year’s Table Tennis Finals be able to top this? Only time will tell.
Members of the Boys’ Team
Captain: Seah Wen Kai Lucas (19S03T)
Vice-Captain: Shawn Chua Kee Yang (19S03N)
Lee Yong Ning (19S02A)
Chan Junhe (20S06N)
Dominic Koh (20S06M)
Gong Dong Dong (20S06E)
Jensen Koh Wei (20A03A)
Members of the Girls’ Team
Captain: Ban Yinyi, Dorothea (19S06A)
Vice-Captain: Jiang Wenjie Lydia (19S03K)
Flora Wan Yuxin (20S06P)
Li Qinan (20S06P)
Lu Hua Yu (20S06F)
Megan Tan Yong Ling (20S03I)
Tan Wan Yi Cayla (20S03J)