By Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports
Benjamin Choo (St Hilda’s #7) goes for a quick ball. (Photo 1 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Woodlands Sports Hall, Friday, April 9, 2010 - St Hilda's Secondary emerged champions for the fourth time running after they beat Punggol Secondary 3-1 (25-14, 21-25, 25-18, 25-13) at the National B Division Boys Volleyball Championship final. This is the 11th time the team has clinched the title of champions since 1997, winning a remarkable 11 out of 14 championships. Punggol Secondary, on the other hand, had also something to celebrate for as it was the first time they featured in the Top Four in their school’s 10 year history.
Both teams started on equal footing, with Punggol managing to hold off St. Hilda's. However, the defending champions soon romped ahead to lead decisively and take the set. Punggol fought back in the second set and managed to take an early lead. Despite St. Hilda's catching up, Punggol kept the score close. With the score tied at 20-20, Punggol pulled ahead to take the set from St. Hilda's, a remarkable feat as they became the first team ever to take a set from St. Hilda's this entire season.
The third set saw St. Hilda's flame reignited. They gave a rejuvenated Punggol a hard fight, and pulled ahead in the second half to take the set. With this high intensity match being full of excitement, signs of fatigue could be seen in the Punggol camp. St. Hilda's used this to their advantage and blitzed to a decisive lead. Despite their opponents commanding a huge lead, Punggol never gave up fighting and continued taking points off whenever they could. But it was to no avail as St. Hilda's sealed the set, to take home their fourth title in a row.
Punggol took the first point after a drop shot by Bryan Chua (Punggol #3). Abel Ang (St Hilda's #5) however responded with a quick ball to level 1-1. The scores remained close as the teams continued to be level till 5-5. But several spikes out of bounds by Punggol saw St Hilda's pull to lead 16-11. St Hilda's continue to hold Punggol at bay with serves from Andy Ong (St Hilda's #1) and their excellent attacks. They soon saw themselves at set point after Punggol could not return a blocked shot. St Hilda's then took the set after Punggol's libero Augustine Goh (#18) had a bad receive on Benjamin Choo's (St Hilda's #7) spike.
Bryan (Punggol #3) took the first point for the team again with a quick ball. A net touch by St Hilda's, followed by a spike out of bounds by Abel (St Hilda's #5) saw Punggol lead 3-0. Punggol then spiked to an empty spot in St Hilda's court to take another point. St Hilda's took their first point after Melson Chew (Punggol #17) spiked out from the outside.
Despite the early deficit, St Hilda's quickly caught up and leveled the scores at 7-7 after Flicks Wong (Punggol #6) spiked out. St Hilda's then turned the tables on Punggol after Benjamin (St Hilda's #7) stuffed out a loose ball. It continued to be a close set as the teams drew level with each other at several points. St Hilda's managed to command a slender lead at 19-17, only for the latter to catch up to level at 20-20.
Punggol turned the tables on their opponents as they went ahead to lead 23-20. They continued to keep the defending champions at bay and took set point after Bryan (Punggol #3) spiked down the block. Punggol then sealed the set after St Hilda's blocked Bryan's (Punggol #3) spike out of bounds.
With Punggol raring to go, they took the first point from a spike by Bryan (Punggol #3). Capitalising on a minor injury suffered by St Hilda's centre spiker Benjamin (St Hilda's #7) earlier in the second set, Punggol kept the score neck and neck with St Hilda's. It was after the 15-14 mark when St Hilda's broke free from Punggol's grasp and pulled ahead to lead 20-16. Despite Punggol's efforts to catch up, they could not stop St Hilda's from reaching 23-17 after being unable to return a quick ball from Benjamin (St Hilda's #7).
They secured set point after Benjamin (St Hilda's #7) killed off a loose ball sent straight to his hands. Despite Punggol taking the next point, it was Benjamin (St Hilda's #7) who took home the set with a spike from another loose ball sent to this hand.
St Hilda's had now regained their form and were eager to take the fourth set as well. It was not long before they blitzed to command a 10-3 lead. St Hilda's libero Tan Zheng Han (#8) was unable to receive a spike from Kingsley Tay (Punggol #8) for Punggol to momentarily hold off St Hilda's advances.
But it was to no avail as St Hilda's responded with a spike to go one point up. St Hilda's continued pounding Punggol, and soon saw themselves leading 20-8. St Hilda's seemed to have worn their opponents down as they pushed Punggol to their limits. Punggol never gave up fighting, and continue to give the defending champions a hard fight.
Benjamin (St Hilda's #7) brought the team to match point after a quick ball down the Punggol block. But Kingsley Tay (Punggol #8) held off St Hilda's celebrations after a spike from the opposite corner. Ong Hong Yuan (St Hilda's #10) then spiked out of bounds to bring the score to 24-13. But Punggol's advances were stopped right there after Kingsley (Punggol #8) served out for St Hilda's to seal the match.
Benjamin Choo (#7), the captain of St Hilda's, commented, "We all did well, and I think it was the best match my team has ever played. I must say Punggol was good. They were the first team to take one set from us. Since the Under-16 Championships, East Zone Championships and now the Nationals, we haven't lost a single set until this match against Punggol."
When asked what went wrong in the second set for them, he said, "The team morale was down and I was in pain after hitting my butt on some steps. I had a hard time trying to persevere on as I was in pain. After losing the second set, we decided to just play to our fullest potential as it will be the last time playing for St Hilda's for all the graduating players." Benjamin had earlier crashed into a small set of staircase while trying to rescue a loose shot.
But coming into the match as defending champions certainly had its stresses. "Of course it was pressurising to defend the title we have. But we see it in a different way. We play to win, and not play not to lose. There’s a different you see."
He added, "It feels good [to win] of course. Some of my teammates are very happy this year as it was their first time as national champions. I was more than overjoyed as over my five years in St. Hilda's, I’ve gotten first position in all the competitions that I have taken part, which started from the Under-13 Championships since Secondary One right until now. I haven't lost any final, that’s a good feeling."
The team celebrated by spending time eating a buffet dinner together after the match. Benjamin expressed his thanks to all the people who helped made this possible. "I want to thank Ms Teo and Mr Loh, our coaches for giving us this skill and opportunity to perform on the court. On behalf on the team, and as a Christian school, I want to thank our Heavenly Father who has been guiding and protecting us for this whole time n the competition."
St. Hilda's 3 Punggol 1
(22-14, 21-25, 25-18, 25-13)
Kuek Ngee Feng (#2)
Bryan Chua Kun Han (#3)
Filicks Wong De Shen (#6)
Yap Kian Jun (#7)
Tay Zhi Hao Kingsley (#8)
Nelson Quek Lihao (Captain, #9)
#Anders Cheong Jia Ying (#10)
Andy Sim Jian Rong (#11)
Justin Tan Hao Yang (#12)
Colin Tan Jin Peng (#16)
Melson Chew Weijie (#17)
Augustine Goh Wee Jian (Libero, #18)
St. Hilda's Lineup
Andy Ong Ming Yi (#1)
Chong Zi Xuan (#2)
Chua Keng Wee Kevin (#3)
Malcolm Tay Ying Liang (#4)
Abel Ang Hao Wen (#5)
Matthaeus Ang Teck Ming (#6)
Benjamin Choo Wei Jie (Captain, #7)
Tan Zhang Han (Libero, #8)
Terence Chew Yong Xiang (#9)
Ong Hong Yuan (#10)
Kenny Yeo Yu Siong (#11)
Josiah Ping Jia Jun (#12)
St. Hilda’s libero Tan Zheng Han (#8) receives a ball. The nimble player was literally “flying” across the court as he went all out to rescue shots. (Photo 2 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)