By Lezann Lee (23A01C) and Jermaine Lee (24A01A)
On 5 May, the Raffles Water Polo (Boys) faced off against Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) in the National School Games (NSG) A-Division final.
RI had lost to HCI by narrow margins in the last two NSG finals, held in 2019 and 2022.
However, having defeated HCI 7-6 in the semifinals on Monday (3 May), the team was sanguine about the prospects of crushing HCI’s winning streak, wrestling back the coveted trophy and reclaiming their title as champions.
Catch some of the game’s highlights in this video:
The RI team’s pre-game talk with their coach.
Picture credits: Jermaine Lee (24A01A)
“Your mentality must be strong. Even if we’re losing, we must not give up the ball,” their coach looked at the team seriously, “Even if we lose, don’t cry. Walk out with a smile.”
Grappling with their pre-game jitters, the boys huddled together to refine their game plan with their coach. They warmly proffered advice to one another, exchanging encouraging pats on the back, buoyed by a shared sense of purpose and resolution.
“Let’s do this,” Tang Yee Ray’s (23S06F) serious expression cracked into a smile. At the resounding applause from the boys, Yee Ray took a quick bow, and the team hastily set off to begin warming up.
The tension present was rife amidst the heady smell of chlorine and the glimmering swimming pool. Moments before the match commenced, a series of cheers erupted from the HCI stands. Our Rafflesians, unwilling to be outdone, countered with a thunderous rendition of “North South East West”.
As the referee’s whistle sounded, a hush fell over the raucous crowd.
HCI secured a strong start with the first goal. Unfazed by their opponent’s bravado, our players evened the score with their impeccable game play – passing on the ball with remarkable coordination, they deftly evaded HCI’s aggressive attempts at interception before jostling for an optimal position to take a calculated shot.
The first quarter was nail-bitingly close, with both teams following up each other’s goals with their own. It ended 3-2, with RI having a close lead.
“I’m not going to be able to sleep after this game,” one of RI’s supporters remarked wryly.
Having found their footing by the second quarter, our players exuded an indubitable aura of confidence. Conversely, the HCI players were almost jittery, letting go of the ball too early with a few missed shots, at which audible groans echoed mournfully from the HCI stands.
RI’s goalkeeper, Bryan He (23S03Q), was a force to be reckoned with. His saves were made with effortless poise and precision, received with impassioned cheers and thunderous applause from the crowd of Rafflesians. The RI team remained consistent and calm, staying ahead 5-3.
The subsequent quarter saw the team’s vice captain, Marc Yeo (23A01C), propelling himself through the water at astounding speeds – within seconds, he had vanquished his opponent in the swim-off and secured first possession for his team.
Though the energy of players from both teams were noticeably waning, they continued to put up a good fight. The third quarter finished 6-4, with RI comfortably keeping their lead.
Our Rafflesian supporters opened the fourth quarter with a rousing “Let’s Go Raffles”, eyes fixated on our boys with rapt attention, eagerly anticipating the team’s triumphant victory. Our team did not disappoint, scoring yet another striking goal, executed with exemplary collaboration.
HCI’s team was visibly ruffled – and because of their dismay and discomposure, their attempts at a comeback eventually fell through.
As the final whistle sounded, our Rafflesians leapt to their feet in exhilaration, exploding into deafening congratulatory cheers. The final score was 7-5, with RI having clinched their first A Division NSG championship in five years!
Hearts swelling with pride, the crowd watched on as the team embraced one another endearingly, not long before they clamoured in search of their coach and proceeded to toss him into the swimming pool in celebration.
There we had it – RI had shattered HCI’s winning record, cementing their position as the A Division NSG Champions of 2023.
When asked how he felt about the match, team captain James Lim (23S06P) said, “I’m very proud of the team. We all know Hwa Chong is a powerhouse, so this win feels very rewarding.
“Our play was choppy at the beginning and our passing and communication wasn’t that good, but we managed to build up our chemistry and momentum through training, team lunches and team meetings. We really have come a long way.”
“This has been the best attitude, determination and grit we have shown,” Marc Yeo added.
“Six years of training with the same people… they’re more like my family than my team,” Yee Ray said, as he gathered the team for a group photo to immortalise the historic moment.
As the boys jockeyed for space to fit into the frame of the commemorative photograph, Bryan He gazed upon his team fondly, saying, “I’m really proud of everyone for working their hardest.
“If I could do this all over again, I would.”
#11 – James Lim (23S06P) – Captain
#4 – Marc Yeo (23A01C) – Vice-Captain
#1 – Bryan He (23S03Q)
#2 – Sean Lee (24S06B)
#3 – Mikel Bhandari (24S03Q)
#5 – Leslie Quek (23S06P)
#6 – Timothy Lin (24S07C)
#7 – Tang Yee Ray (23S06F)
#8 – Fan Xun (24S06B)
#9 – Jonathan Lim (23A01B)
#10 – Mirza Osman (24S07B)
#12 – Bryan Tan (23S063)
#13 – John Tan (24S03D)