Clifton College were crowned the champions of the KZN Top 10 Water Polo Tournament on Sunday afternoon following a hard-fought 8-5 win over Hilton College in the final, played at the Clifton Aquatic Centre.
The two schools had established themselves as the class of the field with their clinical play during the course of the three-day event, with both finishing unbeaten in the group stages.
Kearsney put up a big fight against Hilton in their semi-final, with the boys from the Midlands winning an absorbing contest 10-9, while Clifton withstood a typically tenacious challenge from Northwood with greater assurance, claiming an 8-3 victory.
Then, in the last round of playoff games, Glenwood won 9-2 against the KZN Invitation team, Michaelhouse held off a furious Maritzburg College comeback to take seventh by a narrow 7-6 margin, and Westville Boys’ High had their sights dialled in as they ran out 17-7 winners against DHS to finish fifth.
Kearsney College appeared to be on cruise control for a comfortable win in the third and fourth playoff, having powered into a 5-1 lead over Northwood. But the Knights showed great character and kept pounding away at the Kearsney defence. They brought it back to 4-5, but eventually had to settle for a close 5-6 loss.
In the final, Clifton got away to the kind of start they would have wanted, quickly putting two goals into the back of the net, but Hilton returned the favour by levelling at 2-2. It was, however, as close as they got all game, as Clifton kept edging ahead.
The teams had recently met for third place in both the Clifton Water Polo Tournament and the Hussar Grill SACS Tournament, with Clifton winning 9-5 in the former and 4-2 in the latter. Once again, they held the edge over their opposition, this time by a three-goal margin.
“It shows the hard work the boys have put in. The first two days wasn’t what we wanted, but the boys came together and today we played very good polo and did what we had been working at the entire year. I think, in the pool, it definitely showed,” Clifton captain Mitchell Slade said after the final.
It was a challenging contest, he added, as Clifton and Hilton have played one another five or six times this year, which meant they knew each other very well.
However, playing at a venue the Clifton boys call “The Fortress” was something that he treasured and will always treasure, Slade said: “It is such an experience. I don’t feel this atmosphere anywhere else in South Africa, even though I have been to multiple national tournaments around the country. Playing here is amazing. I love the atmosphere at the pool. I wouldn’t choose to play anywhere else.”
Coach Paul Martin was delighted by his side’s success, and especially happy with their teamwork. “To be honest, there are no game winners in this team. I don’t have any superstars. Clifton has had teams in the past where there have been two or three guys that could win you a game. This has been a completely different group. It has been a team that has pulled together.
“When someone has made a mistake, or someone has done something wrong, others have come covered for them.
“This is one of the best, if not the best holistic team, that Clifton has had in a long time.”
9th/10th: Glenwood High 9-2 KZN Invitation
7th/8th: Michaelhouse 7-6 Maritzburg College
5th/6th: Westville Boys’ High 17-7 DHS
3rd/4th: Kearsney College 6-5 Northwood School
1st/2nd: Clifton College 8-5 Hilton College