It was the members of the Muskie badminton teams who had local club experience that advanced to the NorWOSSA finals set for April 28 in Sioux Lookout.
Seven different Muskies finished within the top two in their divisions at a qualifier tournament last Thursday in Dryden.
Aaron Bujold, Michaela Putzer, Lauren Marchant, Tayah Badiuk, Bella Ward, Rylee Booth, and Owen Riches all will see their seasons continue into the next few weeks.
“As expected, those with club experience were the ones to advance,” said Muskie coach Brian Church.
“All players and teams who qualified went undefeated on the day, requiring only two sets to defeat their opponents.”
But as impressive as his contingent has been, Church knows the competition only will get stiffer from here.
“Competition will be stepped up at NorWOSSA as the top three finishers from the Kenora qualifier will meet the top three finishers from the Dryden tournament,” he noted.
“As is always the case in high school badminton, each tournament presents tougher competition.”
Bujold went a perfect 3-0 in senior boys' singles play, sweeping his competitors from Atikokan (21-8, 21-8), Sioux Lookout (21-5, 21-6), and Pelican Falls (21-0, 21-0).
Putzer also compiled a perfect 3-0 record in senior girls' singles action, similarly earning sweeps over Atikokan (21-1, 21-3), Sioux Lookout (21-9, 21-5), and Pelican Falls (21-5, 21-6).
“Michaela Putzer played her smooth, relaxed game all day, easily finishing first in her pool with a record of 3-0,” Church lauded.
“She then played against the second-place finisher in Pool 'B' [Ignace] and won 21-9 and 21-17,” he noted.
The senior girls' doubles tandem of Marchant and Badiuk finished first in round-robin play with a 6-0 record.
The pair made easy work of Atikokan (21-15, 21-13), both Dryden teams (21-7, 21-4 and 21-11, 21-15), fellow Muskies Sam Berg and Mykenzie Borger (21-5, 21-17), Sioux Lookout (21-11, 21-6), and Pelican Falls (21-7, 21-5).
Berg and Borger, meanwhile, went 3-3 to finish fourth in Pool 'A' and failed to advance.
Ward compiled a 2-0 record to advance to the NorWOSSA final with a first-place finish, sweeping both Atikokan (21-14, 21-13) and Dryden (21-8, 21-12).
The junior boys' doubles team of Riches and Booth went 3-0 en route to a top-place finish, sweeping Atikokan (21-16, 21-15), Sioux Lookout (21-18, 21-14), and Pelican Falls (21-10, 21-7).
“For most players, the sport is more fun when playing against opponents of a similar skill level,” said Church.
As the games progress from NorWOSSA to NWOSSAA, the scores get closer and the matches can take more time.
“For this reason, conditioning is also very important, and those who have used their practice time seriously and productively benefit the most,” he stressed.
“I expect scores to be closer in Sioux Lookout but have high hopes for all who qualified,” Church added.
"They are definitely the most talented players in our school, and possibly the district.
“I am hopeful that all will advance to the NWOSSAA finals in Thunder Bay, but [I] have not seen the competition from the west end of the district yet this year,” he warned.
The senior boys' doubles team of Dakota Jernberg and Chad Westover finished just shy of qualifying for NorWOSSA.
The pair got off to a great start in their first match, but Westover rolled an ankle during the second set with the score tied at 17-17.
“Once he was wearing a brace, he continued to play although in pain,” Church recalled.
“That first match went to three sets and resulted in a loss.”
Their second match was against Atikokan (the first-place finishers in their pool), which resulted in a second loss.
Their third match in Pool 'A' was against Ignace, which Fort High won in straight sets that put them into a three-way tie for second in their pool.
Teams drew straws and the Muskie duo played Ignace first, winning the match 21-13.
Ignace then had to play Sioux Lookout, which they won in a tight match, meaning the Muskies had to play them once again.
In their third meeting of the day, Westover and Jernberg came up short with a 21-17 loss.
This put them in third place in their pool, and thus not advancing to the playoffs to determine the top three teams.
“They played hard and through injury to just get edged out at the end,” noted Church.
Other Muskie results included both the Rya Hawrylak and Emma Stainke tandem, and twin sisters Louise and Susan Andy, going 0-4 in junior girls' doubles play.
Gavin Morrisseau played just a single match, having to withdraw with an injury.
“Gavin . . . did well in his first game, taking the Pelican Falls player to three sets,” Church said.
But a pulled thigh muscle caused him to withdraw rather than continue in the tournament.
“Stretching and conditioning are things he will have to work on for next year,” Church stressed.
Andrea Schram compiled a 1-3 record in senior girls' singles to finish fourth, falling to Atikokan (13-21, 8-21) and Ignace (5-21, 4-21) but then rebounding with a win against Pelican Falls (21-3, 21-3).
Schram then was downed by Dryden (16-21 and 7-21).