SINGAPORE – Losing a key player just days before a final is a huge blow for any team. Two would be a catastrophe, which was what the Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) girls’ volleyball team had to go through ahead of their battle against Victoria Junior College (VJC) on Tuesday.
After losing Lim Xuan Le and Pearl Ye to injuries in the semi-final last Friday, the team’s morale was hit badly. But with the duo cheering on from the sidelines, the defending champions rallied in the National School Games A Division final against VJC to emerge victorious in a fiery battle that went down to the wire, winning 3-2.
This was not Pearl’s first stint on the bench as she was out of commission for most of the season after getting hurt in their opening match.
She said: “Even without us, they still managed to win, so I’m really proud of them... I’m sad that I can’t play in the finals. But last year I got to play, so I’m glad that our juniors got the opportunity.”
Champions in 2014, VJC looked set to reclaim the title early on after clinching the first two sets 25-13, 25-19.
But Hwa Chong clawed back to win the next set 25-16. By then the atmosphere at the OCBC Arena was electric as supporters screamed and groaned with each point, and the fourth set saw the girls fighting tooth and nail in the gruelling 28-minute affair, with HCI winning 29-27.
Towards the end the crowd was on their feet even before the final point was scored, as HCI closed out the victory 15-8 in the decider.
“We managed to keep up the resilience and fighting spirit despite being down 2-0. I think the stress and pressure aside, it was quite a fun match. It was definitely more intense and exciting than last year,” said HCI captain Audrey Loh, 17.
VJC cpatain Sharlene Goh was playing in only her third match this season after spraining her ankle early on.
She said: “I have a lot of pent-up fire. I’m not as good as I was before my injury... I think even though we lost, we fought really well.”
The last day of volleyball competition saw a repeat of the 2022 finals, with HCI up against VJC for the girls, while the A boys’ final was contested by HCI and Nanyang Junior College.
Out to reclaim their title after losing the gold last season, Nanyang had a more smooth-sailing final as they defeated HCI 3-0 (26-24, 25-14, 25-19).
Gold medallists from 2017 to 2019, they were also hit by injury, losing two players who sprained their ankles during training before the final.
“It definitely made us panic but for me, I was confident that our substitute players could make it,” said Nanyang captain Damien Neo. “Our win was very well deserved. It was exciting. Last year, it was a heavy burden on us and losing the title was really devastating. That drove us to work hard for the win this year.”
HCI captain Yeo Yu En said: “I’m proud of my team, we didn’t give up despite the other team scoring a lot. We had each other’s backs, and strong team spirit which is what’s important.”