SINGAPORE - It has been a season of uncertainty and change for student-athletes like Chung Cheng High (Yishun) volleyball player Sophie Arini. First they had to quickly adapt to a modified 3v3 format for the National School Games (NSG), while learning that the national finals had been cancelled owing to the late start for the zonals.
But they are not complaining as many among the teams competing at Monday's (April 19) B Division boys' and girls' volleyball North Zone finals were just happy to be back on court after Covid-19 put a halt to last year's NSG.
The 3v3 competition at the Ministry of Education's (MOE) Physical, Sports and Outdoor Education Branch saw Catholic High School (10-5) and Xinmin Secondary School (8-7) crowned North Zone champions for boys and girls respectively after beating Edgefield Secondary School and Chung Cheng High (Yishun).
Xinmin Secondary's Charmaine Toh, 15, said her team's goal was to add to the C Division North Zone gold that they won in 2019.
"We were mentally prepared and we had this fighting spirit. We were excited and nervous, and we tried to bring each other up throughout the competition," said the teenager.
Edgefield Secondary's Oon Ming Jun and his team were still in high spirits despite their 10-5 loss to Catholic High.
"The team played well today and we really gave it our all. There are no regrets," said the 15-year-old.
After the NSG was axed last year, there was uncertainty over whether team sports like volleyball, which is a six-a-side game, would return this season owing to Covid-19 safety measures limiting play to only a maximum of eight people.
When MOE announced last month the return of 12 sports to the NSG, including team sports volleyball and sepak takraw, the volleyball players had less than a month to adapt to the new format.
But this did not deter Ming Jun and his teammates as he added: "We might not have seen each other much for training last year, but we all have the same goal, which is to win, so I think that the NSG being back made us motivated to train harder."
Sophie admitted that they had lost motivation owing to the uncertainty but that they were "got very excited and felt encouraged to train even harder" when the news was announced.
The 16-year-old said: "I feel very thankful to be able to compete as for most of us it's our last year representing the school. The teachers were also very encouraging during our training. We wanted to get first place this year, but even if we did not get the results that we wanted, everyone did their best."
Adapting to the new 3v3 format proved to be a challenge. "The 3v3 is actually harder because there are fewer people to support you. We have to depend more on ourselves," said Charmaine.
Catholic High's Joshua Lim, 15, added: "With just three people on court, there needs to be more involvement from everyone to get a good receive, a good set and a good spike.
For the 6v6, it is more about playing the game at your own pace, but for the 3v3, it is more of who can get to the ball faster, who is more agile and who is more alert."
While there will be no nationals this year, schools were allowed three teams each as compared with just one in previous editions - giving more players a chance to compete at the zone tournament.
Joshua added: "I know many friends who have trained very hard as well but don't have the opportunity to compete. We adapted to the new format quite well and with the help of my teammates, we are happy to be able to win the trophy for the school."