YAOTY nominees (National School Games)

Boys with nerves of steel prove their mettle at the National School Games

The Straits Times Young Athlete of the Year nominees Gune Atharva Rahul and Evan Poo ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
The Straits Times Young Athlete of the Year nominees Gune Atharva Rahul and Evan Poo ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Student-athletes Evan, Atharva feted for prevailing under high-pressure situations

Every time softball player Evan Poo sits down in his living room to study, the 13-year-old will look up at the shelf holding the two inter-school gold medals that he won with the Catholic High School team.

The medals motivate him "to study and get through my day", particularly the one he won last August at the Schools National C Division competition when the chips were down.

"I put (the medal) in a place where mostly I can see it, because I sit at this particular spot to study so every time I raise my head, I can see the medal and when I look at it, I remember the time we won," he said.

Up against Raffles Institution (RI) in the final, Evan's mettle was tested on the pitch. With his team trailing 3-1 in the third inning, he misread his coach's instructions not to hit the ball, leading to a run-less inning for his team.

He was sure that the momentary lapse in concentration would cost them the title, but with encouragement from his teammates and coaches, he steeled himself before the fourth inning.

With his calm on the pitcher's mound and the players' able fielding, Catholic High fought back to win 5-3 and clinch their fourth C Division title in five years.

"I told myself that I needed to focus on the game and pitch well because it can't be because of me that the whole team lost the match," said Evan.

"I was scared and nervous because I didn't know what was going to come next, but I overcame (those doubts) because my teammates were there encouraging me - they definitely played a big part in this."

Like Evan, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) cricketer Gune Atharva Rahul also displayed composure beyond his years when put in a high-pressure situation on the sporting field, with both student-athletes earning nominations for The Straits Times Young Athlete of the Year award.

Atharva, who last May took three wickets in one over during the dying moments of the A Division final to stave off a comeback from defending champions RI, ranks that as one of his most memorable moments.

ACS (I) scored 140-5 in 20 overs before restricting RI to 130-9 to clinch the victory, which allowed the school to claim the cricket grand slam of A, B and C Division titles for the second time in its history.

DRIVEN TO PERSEVERE

I put (the medal) in a place where mostly I can see it... so every time I raise my head, I can see the medal and when I look at it, I remember the time we won.

EVAN POO, softballer, on finding inspiration from last year's C Division final victory.

FOCUS &BELIEF

Cricket is also a mind game, so just set your mind to it, believe you can do it and you will achieve a lot.

GUNE ATHARVA RAHUL, cricketer, on his advice to his juniors.

The title was particularly special as the 17-year-old was in the team who lost two previous championship matches to RI in 2015 (C Division) and 2017 (B Division). His team had also lost twice to RI during last year's A Division preliminary stage.

While the stakes were high for the final, Atharva said he was not nervous as he was confident of his pre-match planning.

"I really studied that opponent (RI captain Hriday Mistry) as I've played against him since Year One and he's the one who generally pushes his school off to good starts and spearheads them to victories," he said.

"The night before the final I told myself in my head, in the mirror, everywhere, that he's my wicket and I was going to get him out."

Atharva, who is also in the national Under-19 team, hopes to impart lessons from that final to his juniors. He said: "What I would like to tell my juniors is to trust the process and pay a lot of attention to developing yourself as a cricketer - cricket is also a mind game, so just set your mind to it, believe you can do it and you will achieve a lot."

The other three nominees for this year's award are: Swimmer Ardi Zulhilmi Mohamed Azman (Outram Secondary School), hockey goalkeeper Deborah Lee (Eunoia Junior College) and RI runner Grace Shani Anthony.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2020, with the headline 'Boys with nerves of steel'. Print Edition | Subscribe