“I’m speechless… It’s just so exciting!” — Wang Hanxi,15S63
Sweat, cheers, and not a little drama marked the final match standing in the way of VJ’s boys volleyball team and their championship trophy. A truly intimidating sight greeted us as we filed into the stadium — a solid wall of blue; the supporters of our opponents, Nanyang Junior College. Clad in their blue-and-whites, the Nanyang students filled more than half the stadium, the VJ side looked pale by comparison.
But we were just as loud, if not louder.
With the Nanyang girls’ team clinching their title earlier that day, everyone was eager to see which of the two headlines would win out: NYJC takes both the A Div trophies, or VJC boys defend their title?
As both teams took to the court to begin warm ups, the stadium filled with excited murmurs and bursts of applause, interrupted by loud “oohs” and “aahs” when something impressive was pulled off — even if we didn’t quite understand what was going on. Thankfully, with a little help from Google, volleyball was demystified.
Played 6-aside, volleyball, as you may have guessed, involves striking the ball into your opponent’s court 25 times (15 in the last) to win a set; 3 sets out of 5 to win a game (or them fouling enough/hitting the ball out of play that they do it for you). Something you may have always wondered, however, is why there is sometimes a guy on with a different coloured shirt? This person is the ‘libero’, a player who specialises in defending, and can be subbed on and off the court without notifying the referee. Another specialist is the ‘setter’, who (as you may have guessed) sets up the balls for his teammates for them to spike it onto the opponent’s court. For those amongst us who enjoy yelling at the referee for fouling our team, the two common fouls are to touch the net and to touch the ball consecutively.
The VJ team had been training relentlessly for this match, up to (and occasionally beyond) twelve hours a week, gradually increasing the frequency of their trainings to condition them for the game that awaited them. Finally, it was time to begin. The warm-ups ended with the referee’s whistle, signalling that the first set was about to start. Seet Khuen from 15S63, one of the liberos from our team, reveals that they were a little nervous. “My whole team was unsure about the results, and honestly, I felt that NYJC was a really strong team”. This was partially caused by the warm-ups, for the VJ boys had appeared to be missing strikes and failing to defend them before the match even began, compared to the powerful and impressive moves of our opponents. Seet Khuen admits as much, saying “We didn’t have a good warm up, but NYJC had a really good one!”
Nonetheless, it was time to begin. For those of us new to volleyball, the fouls seemed a little disruptive to the game’s flow at first. In this first set, points after points were conceded due to players touching the net. Before long, Nanyang had taken an early lead. After a timeout was called, the tempo swung back in VJ’s favor. VJ responded with a good series of blocks, propelling us into the final stretch leading 20–18. Nanyang recovered, however, scoring an astounding six consecutive points to flip the score 20–24. With the VJ team four points behind, the set seemed to be lost. Despite this, we fought hard, and managed to claw the score back to 23–24. But at the very last moment, we were denied a successful comeback (a team has to win a set by 2 points) and lost 24–25.
While the game was progressing on court, a cheering match was going on between the two teams’ respective supporters. Leading the charge on the VJ side were the newly-elected red shirts, coordinating the cheering efforts in support of our team. In addition to this, loud cheering was provided by the (former) red shirts in attendance, often drowning out any other noise in the stadium. Amongst them was Daniel Loh from 15A12, the (former) relations head of the 32nd SC, who said that his juniors did well, and explained that they had been trying to provide support for them. “We see our position of cheering from the stands as something which is necessary”, he says, to be the “fired up bunch of spectators” that allows the red shirts to do their job well.
And do their job they did, as the second set of the match began. Again, with early points and an NYJC lead, the VJ side appeared to be trailing behind their seemingly stronger opponents. This was not to last. With tremendous effort, VJ caught up to, and pulled ahead of, their opponents; first to 14–12, then 20–15. After a short time out (in which the NY referee was seen gesturing fervently at his team), and two good spikes, the score was near even, at 24–22. An impressive dunk (a move where a setter, instead of setting the ball up for a spike, tosses it over to the opponent’s side) saw NY close on our lead, showing that they were not to be taken lightly. The tension was intense, and barely a whisper was heard out of both sides’ supporters. A win by VJ in the set would equalize the score, a win by Nanyang would see them ready to win the game 3–0. A spike by our boys decided the set, however, and the score was equalised at 1–1.
Despite the now-even score, a spectator (who wished to remain anonymous) remained unconvinced. When asked on who he favoured for the win, he pointed at the opposing team, saying “VJ did well, but it may not be enough.” In the face of such doubts that they themselves no doubt feel, what keeps the players going in the heat of the match? Another one of our players, Maguire from 15S44, elaborates, “We definitely wanted to win it for our teachers and coaches who put in so much effort to support us and guide us; and also for the J1s who didn’t have the chance to achieve the championship before.” He adds that they were very motivated to defend the title they themselves had won last year, and do the school proud.
The third set kicked off as clouds began gathering outside the stadium, casting the stands in darkness. With the spectators shrouded in shadow, the lights casting a spotlight on the court, lighting up every bead of sweat on the players’ faces, the scene could only be described as epic. By the third set, the number of fouls had reduced drastically, the clashes between the two teams over each and every point grew longer, and the match got much more intense. At one point, one of our players even managed to save a ball that had been struck far outside the boundaries of the court. After being neck and neck through the 10s, VJ pulled ahead, with consecutive outs and net serves seeing our team lead with a score of 20–16.
(NYJC #7 attempting to block a spike)
Then, one of our players took a spike to the face.
Defending the ball, Tan Yi Xian seemed to shrug it off, deftly tossing his glasses (which had fallen off his face) to the side of the court in an attempt to save them from getting crushed. After the point was won, however, the true extent of the damage was revealed, as he held up his spectacles to discover that the lenses had been knocked out by the force of the ball slamming into his face. In a show of sportsmanship, the NYJC player who delivered the spike walked over to the net to apologise, patting Yi Xian on the back (NYJC #2 — we salute you). The tension was palpable, as without his lenses, Yi Xian would not be able to see, leaving VJC without a valuable player. Finally, the lenses were found, and after a few heart-pounding moments, they were fitted back into their frame, and he readied himself to continue playing. With the crowd applauding his tenacity, the match resumed.
The tension, however, had not been dissipated in the slightest. The closest set yet, the third clash of the teams saw the match point reached not once, not twice, but three times — the winning score having been raised to 28 before the VJ team was able to clinch the set. If they won the next one, they would take the trophy home.
The fourth (and, the Victorians hoped, final set) began to peals of thunder from outside the stadium, accompanying the thickening storm clouds, as though Zeus himself had descended from his seat to watch the action. Finally scoring the first point, then taking an enormous 7–1 lead, VJC looked set to win the — well, the set, and the trophy along with it. However, NYJC did not make it to the finals because they were easy to beat. Coming back hard, they fought to a 22–20, narrowing VJ’s lead. Egged on by the red-shirts, the VJC crowd got to its feet, roaring its support for our team. The four of us, normally sedate and calm, would later discover that we had screamed ourselves hoarse. Ultimately, though, the stalwart Nanyang players were to deny us yet again. Just like in the first set, NYJC clawed things back to a tie — finally overtaking, then beating, the VJ team. The crowd didn’t know whether to be infuriated or ecstatic to be able to see a fifth set.
The game was now down to the wire: a fifth, make-it-or-break-it, winner-takes-all set.
As rain beat down outside the stadium, the environment inside was electric, with supporters tapping their feet and laughing nervously. One of us had bitten his nails into jagged edges, so anxious that he reverted to a habit he thought he had left behind in primary four. Other supporters took a different approach, however, most notably of whom were those from Maguire’s class, who had (by some stroke of genius, or insanity) printed out flags and even a real-life-sized mask with their favourite volleyballer’s face on it. When asked on their inspiration, Sim Yang Siong from 15S44 had this to say: “We just thought it would be damn funny”.
Maguire told us that he was really grateful for their show of support, even if, during a match, they tend to focus solely on the game. “It would be kind of hard to not notice… But during the match, we mostly focus on the ball and our own teammates who provide us with the support we need.” This support was desperately needed as the game went on to the second set, for, as Seet Khuen explains, not everything was sunshine and daffodils on the VJ bench. “All of us was really demoralised, because we had to adjust certain moves, as some of our players were injured… it was really a test of endurance for all of us, and the thought of losing kept popping into our minds.” Despite this, he says, the never lost hope, explaining “we still kept cheering each other on!”
(Seet Khuen defending a spike)
Similarly, the spectators were cheering them on as well, getting to their feet in the final round to support their teams. VJ took an early lead, blocking spike after spike until the score reached 7–4 and the teams were asked to change courts. When the score reached 15–7, and the VJ players ran on to the court, the spectators were initially confused — until we realised the final set was only until 15. We had done it. We had won.
The stands erupted in the most deafening cacophony of cheers, shouts and applause we’ve ever heard, drowning out the storm that was battering the stadium outside. Linking arms, we honoured tradition and sang the school anthem, giving Victoria the honour it claimed. Congratulations to both teams on a hard-fought game, a pleasure to watch, and no doubt, to play. Good job to all the volleyball boys for fighting hard and defending the title, doing themselves and the school proud.
Well done to the girls’ volleyball team as well, for they crushed ACJC 3–0 to clinch the third place; a victory and an achievement no less hard-won or deserving.
(Our volleyball team posing with the trophy)
For our volleyball team, it has been a journey of hard work and effort — one which paid off, no doubt, in spectacular fashion. Congratulations VJVB, and good luck to all other CCAs for their matches, performances, and events!
Ajay Nair, 15S63
Chloe Tan, 16S63
Kwek Zhan Hao, 15S49
Sean Tan, 15S49