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Paul Lefebvre - MP for Sudbury
Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2019
A different kind of freshman class for Boreal badminton
by Randy Pascal

The irony hit Boréal Vipères' badminton coach Mike Dionne like a ton of bricks. The college's athletic director, Andrea Boyce, had just passed along some information regarding an incoming freshman talent.

“I actually snickered and was thinking about what the odds were that a student would come to our college named Lynn Michel,” stated Dionne at practice last week.

The likelihood certainly seemed remote that he would inherit a new player who just happened to have the same name as the woman most synonymous with the storied history of badminton at Boréal, a mentor who had garnered coach of the year accolades on multiple occasions, all while cobbling together athletes who would qualify, with regularity, for nationals, despite representing easily the smallest school in the OCAA.

Turns out there was no irony at all. Turns out Dionne's new rookie was none other than the 56 year old former coach, just recently retired from a 34 year career in nursing, and now challenging herself by tackling the women's carpentry program at Boréal, a pursuit that rendered her eligible for OCAA competition for the first time ever.

“The wheels starting turning in my mind about the possibilities that we could do,” said Dionne. “We have Emilie Roy back and they played a few (open) tournaments together. With Lynn and Emilie together, we've got a good shot at provincials right there in ladies doubles.”

As for the player, Michel acknowledged that things came together rather quickly, with the thought of an academic return to school far more prevalent and dated than the notion of adding an athletic component to the mix ever was.

“I thought about the possibility of going back to school many, many years ago,” she said, taking a well-deserved rest at practice. “I thought that when I retired, some day, I might go back to school.” If irony was not present, karma certainly was, at least in the mind of the coach turned athlete.

“The day that I was told that they had accepted me in the course was the day that we got the Black Knight feeder,” explained Michel. “Call it whatever you want, but that's karma.” As a coach, she had lobbied for years to try and secure the necessary funding to purchase that piece of equipment that could jump the training possibilities forward several steps at once.

The door was open, but reality stood facing her right in the face.

There was, after all, this small matter of balancing off her age with the lure of getting back out on the court, in a competitive environment unlike any she has recently faced. Make no mistake – within the masters badminton circuits, Lynn Michel is very much a known commodity. We are not talking about a once a week recreational soon-to-be senior suddenly deciding to grab her racquet and compete against the kids.

This woman has game.

Just a few years removed from neck surgery, Michel is taking it all in stride. “I'm always thinking that I am just lucky to be able to play,” she said. “It's not as though I don't put the energy, or try and do my best. I'm just going to do my best and enjoy doing it – that's my motto.”

After having just three players, in total, under his watch last season, Dionne is thankful for the opportunity to work with a team of seven in 2018-2019 (OCAA max is ten). Along with the return of Emilie Roy, the coach will have the chance to continue the progress inititally demonstrated by Cochrane native Jonathan Boucher, back for his sophomore campaign.

The 19 year-old graduate of Ecole Nouveau Regard explained that there is more to the adjustment to the post-secondary ranks than simply the higher level of competition. “Last year, I wasn't used to the feather birds, so when I tried to defend on a smash, I was pretty bad.” High school and junior club badminton generally still features nylon/plastic birds in use across the province.

Though he has played the sport dating back to his time in grade three, Boucher still maintains a strong preference towards not being out on the court on his own. “I have mostly doubles background,” he said. “I'm more of a fast player, so when I play singles, I will tire myself out.”

“In badminton, normally, singles play is a slower pace, and then when you get the chance, you smash really hard or try and finish it. In doubles, you want to keep it fast and flat, because as soon as you lift, they're starting to smash on you.”

Identifying those realities is pretty much a constant conversation between a coach and his athletes. For the bulk of his newcomers, with the obvious exception of Lynn Michel, Dionne begins the season with a fairly basic game plan. “The first thing I try and do is observe the obvious,” he said. “I'll use the words “bad habits”, but perhaps it's more “wrong habits”, something as simple as keeping their thumb up on the grip, rather than wrapped around.”

The first chance to witness the fruits of his labour come this weekend, as the Vipères join several other teams at the Humber Invitational. “The Humber tournament is always very strong,” said Dionne. “I've jokingly referred to it as “feeding the rookies to the lions”. This event allows them to see what is out there in southern Ontario. I compare it to OFSAA on steroids.”

Given that landscape, the fifth year coach will spend precious little time scoreboard watching. “I don't care what the player's individual skill level is, I want them to go out there, fighting hard, win, lose or draw. The effort level is far more important than the result, for them.”

And that is sure to suit Lynn Michel and her teammates just fine.

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