By Darren Lum
Mission accomplished for Red Hawks doubles’ team with a strong work ethic to earn OFSAA berth
Ava Smith was beaming with pride about fulfilling a vow to earn an all-provincials berth recently, which was made several years ago as a student at Archie Stouffer Elementary School.
Smith, a senior girls’ Red Hawks’ doubles badminton player, recently competed at the Ontario Federation Sports Athletic Associations (OFSAA) championships with doubles’ teammate Emma Tidey.
Held from May 5 to 7 at St. Clair College in Pain Court with 50 matches a day, the all-provincial championship, provided the backdrop to a dream come true, and reminded the pair about recounting what they said in Grade 6.
“We really like this and we’re pretty good at it and, so, we were like, okay, imagine going to OFSAA in high school?”
The doubles team peaked for the tournament, Smith said. This resulted in a 3-3 record, good enough for 18th out of 40 teams.
“That’s the best we’ve ever played. We definitely rose to the challenge and we played I think the best we’ve ever played,” she said.
The two players don’t just play badminton. Both play for the Peterborough Ice Kats’ AA girls’ hockey team and are currently playing soccer for the Red Hawks senior team this spring. They believe their varied interests may put them at a disadvantage in terms of badminton playing time and skill development compared to their opponents, who they assume don’t play as many sports in the year, but it enables them to be well-rounded athletes. The Hawks’ pair believe it heightened their excitement when the high school badminton season started than if they played badminton year-round. They also added their agility, footwork, reaction time and upper body strength is benefitted by playing other sports such as volleyball, soccer and hockey.
Tidey said there was a certain level of pride to not just play, but compete well against their opponents, who were clearly players with club experience.
Smith remembers one match on the first day when they surprised a team by going up 10-0 to start.
Although the Hawks’ tandem eventually lost, it put their opponents on notice and they forced a third and deciding game for the match.
“They totally underestimated us when we showed up … at first they were like laughing and giggling and then started to realize that we were just smoking them at that point. They’re like, okay, we got to actually go [and play],” she said.
The tournament was organized with the opening day of matches determining the team’s field of competition (a flight – no losses, b flight – one loss and c flight – two losses) while the second day included the elimination round when teams who lost two matches would be eliminated from play, and then the third was for championship matches. The Hawks finished 2-1 and advanced from the first day to the b flight when they won one match and lost two. They finished 3-3 overall at the tournament.
At first, Tidey and Smith didn’t feel entirely comfortable at the all-provincial tournament with how the other teams exhibited the common traits associated to not just playing for their high school, but were clearly part of a badminton club.
Many of the doubles’ teams they saw were dressed in matching track suits, with badminton specific shoes on their feet, and four rackets each, compared to just the one racket for each of the girls from here.
Smith added their opponents’ depth of skills was on showcase, but it didn’t deter their determination to overcome what seemed at the time overwhelming odds.
“They all have these fancy smashes where they jump and smash the bird right at you and there’s no chance of getting it. We kept up. It was good,” Smith said.
Tidey adds the pair relaxed as the tournament wore on despite feeling frustrated to start.
“As the tournament went on more and more we learned to have more fun,” she said.
Tidey remembers on the first day they were getting frustrated with each other. This ended when they remembered to have fun.
“We just started to support each other more,” she said.
The team loved their coach’s even-keeled approach to coaching them this season, his supportive and encouraging words he offered, including how he reminded them at OFSAA to remember to have fun.
Smith said their coach told them, ‘You guys made it here and you’re doing awesome. Have fun,’
Back in Grade 9 the team finished on the podium, but with no all-provincials to go to (as a rule) the team anticipated Grade 10 to be their year to fulfill a dream.
“We were just proud we made it that far,” Tidey said. “And then we kind of thought about it, ‘oh, well, when we’re in Grade 12 [or Grade 11] we’ll do badminton again and see how far we get,” Tidey said.
The pandemic hit and that wish was left unfulfilled. Grade 11 came and the pandemic continued, so with health measures lifting this year, the team was able to make their last year of eligibility count.
For Tidey, this year and the opportunity to play for a berth to the all-provincials was welcomed.
The lesson the tandem took from the all-provincial experience was how their efforts during the pre-season and season, which were built upon passion for the sport and a belief in themselves, established them as a team that belonged with the best in the province.
“We’re hard workers. We can compete. We can keep up. Even though we don’t have club experience, which everyone at OFSAA plays club … we can keep up,” Smith said.