It is fair to say that our Under 13s qualified for the English Schools Finals against all expectations. Not only were we the only Prep school involved, competing against big senior public schools, we were 12 boys who less than 10 months before had been shooting incorrectly sized balls against upside down floats propped against rusting chairs! Furthermore, two heavy pre-season defeats to Trinity (2-13) and Dulwich College 2nd Team (3-16) made it even more of a surprise when we qualified from our group undefeated.
Defying expectation yet again, we progressed through our group to reach the semi-final against Dulwich College. Bearing in mind the loss we incurred in September and the way the College dominated their group, it seemed, on paper, a foregone conclusion.
Our tactic was to hit the College with everything we had in the first minute and see how they responded. Willem led by example and after 27 seconds managed to steal the ball and score an exceptional solo goal. Interplay between a relentless Marcus and persevering Max gave us the second goal and all of a sudden the 60+ boys and parents from other schools watching the match on pool side stopped talking and began focusing on our game. With 2 minutes to go of the first half, the stunned silence turned into loud cheers as the Prep continued to deny the College any chance of taking the lead. Fantastic defensive work from Zak resulted in the half ending 2-1 in favour of the Prep.
During the half-time team talk the expression on every boy's face was shock mixed with excitement of ‘what might be…’. That look never disappeared, in fact after more defensive excellence from Ollie and a phenomenally fast counter attack on the right from Maxwell, we took a two goal lead. Everyone (myself included) was waiting for the College to begin their comeback but with a strong bench which included Elliot, Sam, Connel, Jock and Joe, energy levels were kept high with substitutes rolling on and off. The result of this team effort was a 4-3 victory and it would be remiss if I did not include one last mention of the captain and goal keeper, Tom. In our second match Tom had a very difficult game and was put under enormous pressure by the shooting of Kings Grantham. He took the experience to heart but responded in the best way any player can – by being the man of the match against the College. Tom led by example and worked hard to save countless shots and ensured we slowed down the play to frustrate the opposition even more.
It still feels unreal that we are the second best water polo team nationally for under 13s. The pride felt by Mr Bedford and Mr Halls is completely down to the boys' work ethic, perseverance and their remarkable progress over the last 9 months. In one of the team talks Mr Bedford said: “If you reach for the moon but miss, you might just hit the stars…” Whilst we did not win the final I feel confident that, given where we started in September, we have definitely reached the stars…