There simply is not enough badminton to be had for at least a small group of Sudbury teenagers.
Most, who are members of the Sudbury Junior Badminton Club, have spent the past two weekends in tournament mode, first with the club Invitational and then with the NOBA (Northern Ontario Badminton Association) Junior Championships, with both events hosted at St Benedict Catholic Secondary School.
This, of course, is on top of their busy schedules with their respective high-school teams, not to mention their other sporting interests. One cannot help but wonder where the time comes from to make it all happen.
The Marymount Regals women's doubles team of Angelina Lam and Mackenzie Watkins walked away from the 2018 OFSAA Championships as silver medal winners in Flight “C”, becoming the first local medal winners at the high school provincial playdowns since Michelle Koslowskyj in 2014.
“We've been partners since about grade eight and have kept working on our teamwork, and it's paid off,” said Lam, a 17 year old grade 12 student, who also garners attention in both wrestling and the track and field throwing events. “There are a lot of things we still need to work on, but it's good to figure out stuff, on the court, as things are happening.”
Though the tandem would settle for bronze in the NOBA U-19 showcase, both of the teams which finished ahead were merged entries, with Sudburian Cierra St-Germain teaming with Jessie Zhou of North Bay to claim gold, while Ellie Perry (North Bay) and Karine Boucher (Sudbury) walked off with silver. Those partnerships, obviously, will not exist at either the SDSSAA or NOSSA level of play, when the experienced chemistry of Lam and Watkins will hopefully pay dividends.
“We just have to keep talking and communicating with each other,” stated Lam. “We often play front and back, but we will go sides when we lift it up, in case it comes back as a smash, because we are both really good at defending the smashes. We kind of switch, depending on where we are.”
While St-Germain, a grade 11 student at École Secondaire Hanmer, did manage to crack the podium in doubles play last weekend, that's not where her focus is likely to be come time for the city high-school championships in early April. “I prefer singles, but I know that I play better in doubles and mixed, because I tend not to like to move my feet in singles,” she said.
“But I am training more singles this year.”
And while she admits to becoming annoyed, at times, with the constant footwork drills that she requires, there is simply no debating the net benefits. “From the beginning of the season, until now, I've improved drastically,” said St-Germain. “My movement has been so much better this tournament than the rest of the tournaments because I have been practicing footwork at home, in the gym, at school.”
And like most who tend to excel in the secondary school badminton setting, it is largely because St-Germain will complement her workouts from a small but spirited group of Hanmer Sabre hopefuls with the ramped-up intensity that comes part and parcel of the badminton package with the club workouts.
“When we come to club, they have the practices all set out,” she said. “When we are here, it's organized. I love it. When you have a tournament coming up, you can focus just on what you really want to work on. There are a lot of people that come out and help, which is nice, because everyone has a different view of the game.”
A few years younger, at fifteen and in grade 10 at Collège Notre-Dame, Dominik Brunette-Royer has also demonstrated a clear-cut preference towards holding court completely on his own in a sport that he now works on year-round. “I see myself more as a singles player,” he said. “We practice singles, doubles and mixed in practices, so I kind of have a feel for all three, but I would rather play singles.”
“I think I am better at positioning and moving around, and with shot selection as well, picking the right spots and stuff.” Targeting a berth at OFSAA, Brunette-Royer will have his work cut out for him, forced to play up in the senior division, against opponents as much as three years older, given that badminton does not contest provincials for midget and junior high school athletes.
Still, the club setting has allowed him to regularly face adversaries with far more time on the clock than the local teen. “I have a lot of people that I like to play against, and they've been playing for a long time, so it's good experience for me,” he noted. “They are mostly about placing shots and making the other person run. It makes me a better player, practicing and playing with them. They give me a lot of pointers.”
Though his days at École Secondaire catholique du Sacré Coeur are now behind him, having just completed his first year at Collège Boréal, Luc Demers did enjoy one final kick at the NOBA junior playdowns, earning a bronze medal alongside doubles partner Cheukman Zhou of North Bay. Though he only seriously began to pursue the sport upon entering grade nine, Demers entered his current passion with the benefit of a closely aligned athletic cousin already on his side.
“I started off as a squash player and it kind of merged into badminton,” he said. “I fell in love with the sport because it's kind of similar in different ways. I had to really get used to the “no wall” aspect, that was definitely the hardest part. I had to take the shots earlier, anticipate what the other guys are going to hit.”
A former NOSSA champion in his early days at Sacré Coeur, joining forces with schoolmate Carter Baumruk, Demers was entered into the mixed doubles regional competition in his freshman season at OCAA play with the Vipères. “It was a great addition for me,” he said. “I feel like it permitted me to really focus on just one thing.”
“In primary and high-school, it was always mixed, doubles and singles. But this year, I really concentrated on the mixed, which really helped me improve.”
The local entries enjoyed their greatest success at the NOBA event in the U-16 division, with Gillian Obradovich claiming gold in girls singles and doubling up by finishing first with partner Victoria Gadomski of KTP in North Bay, while Brunette-Royer and Zachary Kizell, also from KTP, took the U-16 boys doubles crown.