By Lee Min Kok
ARMED with a team of rookies, former Schools National floorball champion Meridian Junior College knew it had to do something drastic to its players to ensure that they could win this year's A Boys' title.
After all, the 2007 champion had failed in its last two attempts to regain the crown and MJC head coach Seah Joo Wee was not in the mood to fail for a third successive year.
So the former national player went for broke: She registered the 18-strong team in the rough-and-tumble world of the National Floorball League's third division - so that her players could gain competitive experience quickly.
She explained: 'They had to learn fast. It was a way for the boys to hone their reaction abilities under stressful conditions.'
It proved to be a brilliant plan.
Thanks to the weekly league matches every Saturday from last December to April, Meridian's rookies gradually gelled into a cohesive and stylish unit that went on to win the A Boys' title.
They defeated Yishun JC 7-2 in the final last week.
Oh, and they even finished a creditable fourth out of 12 teams in the league's third division.
But when MJC players Adarrel Ho and Tan Chang Tat, both 17, recall their time playing third division national league floorball, it is sometimes with a shudder.
This is because the competition is usually filled with national servicemen and university players keen to return to the sport they played while in school.
That sometimes meant the MJC team coming up against players who were bigger, stronger and sometimes 'badder'.
Chang Tat, a former secondary-school table-tennis player said: 'We were shocked when we turned up for a match against a team called Fatboys Slimming. Most of their guys were 80kg and above, whereas each of us weighed about 60kg.'
Adarrel recalled opponents who went for the man instead of the ball. 'We did not retaliate though,' he said. 'We learnt to just pick ourselves up, smile and continue playing.'
Still, the steep and painful learning curve proved invaluable. 'The games taught us to stay calm when the chips were down,' said Adarrel.
Gradually, the MJC players also developed an attractive passing game that was the envy of their opponents.
'Their style of play is like Arsenal's,' said Seah, referring to the English Premier League side. 'I had to remind them not to overplay at times!'
It all means that from rookies, MJC have emerged as the stylish kingpins to beat next year.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.