SINGAPORE - Ahead of Hwa Chong Institution's (HCI) clash with River Valley High School (RVHS) in the B Division boys' West Zone table tennis finals on Thursday (April 22), defending champions HCI were confident of adding another gold medal to their trophy collection.
But things did not go as smoothly as expected at Yuhua Secondary School, as a shock loss in the second singles saw HCI having to regroup and rally to win the title, 3-1.
Fired up from the get-go, the defending champions were quick to claim the first point, as HCI's Tan Zhao Ray notched a 11-4, 11-4, 11-5 win over Alfred Ting in the first singles.
Doubles players Chang Hok Xi and Nathanael Goh then made it 2-0 for HCI as they beat RVHS' James Lau and Renfred Ong 11-5, 11-3, 11-3.
Hwa Chong had appeared unstoppable ahead of the third match-up but River Valley's Cornelius Tan had other plans.
It was a battle of familiar foes as Cornelius faced HCI captain Isaac Young from across the table in the second singles. Both paddlers last met at the C Division West Zone team finals in 2019, when Isaac had beaten Cornelius en route to the gold medal.
Out for revenge, the 15-year-old RVHS player started strong to claim the first game 11-5 before winning the next two 11-6, 11-7 to seal the shock win over his rival.
Cornelius said: "I learned some of his weaknesses and the areas I was lacking in, for example my forehand was really weak two years ago and I just learned from there."
The loss was unforeseen as Isaac later told The Straits Times that the team had last conceded a match in the West Zone finals in 2016, when they beat Nan Hua High School 3-1.
The 16-year-old said: "We were all quite shocked at first, especially me."
But the shell-shocked team quickly regained their composure as doubles pair Ethan Ng and Aidan Ng notched a 13-11, 11-4, 11-3 win over RVHS' Warren Lee and Ayden Phua in the fourth match to secure the West Zone title for Hwa Chong, 3-1.
Crediting his opponent for his "commendable effort", an ecstatic Isaac said: "With our coordination and the fact we bonded so well as a team, we were able to take the second double and the victory."
While HCI suffered a slight scare en route to gold, there were no such worries for Nanyang Girls High School as they defeated RVHS 3-0 in the B Division girls' West Zone final.
Nanyang Girls' team captain Esther Tay said it was "amazing" to be back competing at the National School Games after last year's competition was cancelled owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said: "I think it definitely shows that all our hard work has paid off especially during Covid, and having to train even when there's no competition."
Nan Hua High School took home the bronze for the B Division boys' and girls' West Zone after their respective teams beat Fuhua Secondary School and Unity Secondary School in similar 3-0 scorelines on Thursday.