There will be a distinct Rainy River District flavour at the NWOSSAA badminton championships today in Thunder Bay.
Both the Muskies and Rainy River Owls had 'birders' qualify after finishing within the top two in their respective divisions at the NorWOSSA finals last Wednesday in Dryden.
For the Muskies, their lone athletes to advance were the senior girls' doubles tandem of Tayah Badiuk and Lauryn Marchant as they nabbed gold with a perfect 5-0 record.
The Muskie duo continued their dominant play this season and opened with a 21-13/21-9 win against Roy and Thompson of the Sioux Lookout Warriors.
They then also dispatched the Atikokan Voyageurs' tandem of Manford and Arnold in two sets (21-11/21-15).
Badiuk's and Marchant's only bout of adversity came in their third match of the day.
After winning the first set 21-11 against Alexiuk and Ribey of Atikokan, they dropped the next set by a 16-21 score.
But the Muskie juggernauts prevailed in the third-and-deciding set with a 21-17 win to claim the match.
“Lauryn and Tayah played confidently all day and once again had their toughest match against Alexiuk and Ribey of Atikokan,” said Muskie coach Brian Church.
“This was a close match and their only one requiring a third set. After winning the first and then losing the second set, they regrouped and rebounded to win in a close set with a score of 21-17,” he added.
Badiuk and Marchant then dispatched both of their final two Dryden Eagles' opponents in two sets each, defeating Abayan and Brown (21-10/21-6) and
Heil and Bell (21-9/21-14).
“FFHS took first overall in this event, while the AHS duo of Alexiuk and Ribey placed second,” Church noted.
It was a much tougher time for the Muskie boys' doubles teams, however.
Ryley Booth and Dakota Jernberg compiled a 3-2 record in the senior boys' division to wind up in third and just miss out on qualifying for NWOSSAA.
After cruising to wins against each of Parrish and Howell of the Red Lake Rams (21-10/21-19), Ben Forbes and Kendall Shultz of the Warriors (22-20/21-12), and Tresoor and Alcock of the Kenora Broncos (21-9/21-9), the Muskie duo dropped their final two matches of the day.
That included straight-sets loss to each of King and Palmai (13-21/7-21) and Pitura and Chalifoux (16-21/12-21) of the Voyageurs.
“Ryley and Dakota started the day off with three-straight wins, which gave them confidence when they came up against King and Palmai of Atikokan, a team who defeated them at the qualifier last week,” Church recalled.
“Once again, they were defeated in two-straight sets. Frustration began to show a bit during this match when shots began to hit the net or land out of bounds,” he conceded.
"I think it was a bit of a mental thing where they started to get frustrated by losing some points, and then not making some routine shots that normally aren't a problem.
“A big part of badminton is the mental aspect,” Church stressed.
"After a loss to the first Atikokan team, the duo still knew that they could qualify for NWOSSAA with a win in their final game against Pitura and Chalifoux of Atikokan, a team they had defeated in the qualifier.
“Although a close match, again the pressure resulted in some unforced errors which did them in,” he reasoned.
“This loss was most upsetting to the team as they knew they had beaten these opponents last week, and a loss this time would end their season,” Church added.
The Muskie junior boys' doubles duo of Brett Schram and Jake McKinnon also suffered a similar fate, winning their first three matches before dropping their final two to finish in third place with a 3-2 record.
Schram and McKinnon started off strong in dispatching each of Dixon and Hannah of the Rams (21-13/21-11), King and Kakepetum of the Warriors (21-13/21-9), and
Cook and Edenburn of the Eagles (21-13/23-21).
But the Muskie duo's fate was sealed with losses to both Vos and Kehl of Atikokan (18-21/13-21) and Lacosse and Zacharias of Atikokan (21-18, 10-21, and 21-19).
“Brett and Jake got off to an excellent start winning their first three matches in two straight-sets,” Church lauded.
"Their match against Dryden was a bit of a squeaker with the second set resulting in a score of 23-21. Once again, our downfall came in the final two matches against Atikokan.
“First up was Kehl and Vos who repeated last week's defeat of FFHS in two-straight sets,” he noted.
“Brett and Jake got a bit flustered once losing and started making unforced errors. Their precision and accuracy decreased, along with their confidence once down a few points,” he lamented.
“They then entered their final match against Lacosse and Zacharias of Atikokan. Their confidence was up as they had beaten them last week in three close sets, but there was pressure as a win was necessary to qualify for NWOSSAA,” he reasoned.
"The first set was close, but they pulled it off with a 21-18 score. After a pep talk by their coach, the AHS duo rebounded with a convincing 21-10 win.
“This put them into a third-and-deciding set, which ended with a 21-19 score in Atikokan's favour,” Church recalled.
"They played hard and showed resilience but came up on the short end of the draw this time.
“Brett and Jake are rookies who picked up considerable skill during the short season," he lauded, adding that "I am sure they will be back to dominate next year.”
Overall, the teams from the South of the Muskies' division—and particularly Atikokan High School—presented the highest level of competition for them. “Mentally, once our teams got behind, they had a difficult time shaking it off and playing at their normal skill level,” Church conceded.
“Unforced errors proved to be their downfall once frustration set in. Once a players confidence drops, often they try to compensate by trying to make more difficult shots,” he noted.
"If successful, they usually rebound, but if they miss—it further adds to the frustration.
“All our players were happy with their performance, but the boys were disappointed by being edged out of the medals, and more importantly NWOSSAA,” he added.
“It was heartbreaking to be so close and know you have just lost to a team that you have beaten before.”
As for the Owls, Jackson Arpin had the best showing once again as he snared gold as he went a dominant 5-0 in senior boys' singles.
Tala Quran and Madison Kreger, meanwhile, compiled a 4-1 record to snare silver in junior girls' doubles and also advanced to NWOSSAA.
“Jackson claimed the gold medal with five wins and zero losses and played very well,” lauded Owls' coach Guy Arpin.
"Tala Quran and Madison Kreger won the silver medal with four wins and one loss, they were the surprise of the group.
“They are both Grade 9s who are new to badminton and played very well to earn this spot,” he enthused.
Paige Stamler, meanwhile, had a very good showing but came up just short of qualifying for NWOSSAA as she finished third with a 3-2 record in senior girls' singles.
“Paige Stamler had a very good championship, finished third with three wins and two losses, narrowly missed out on qualifying for next week,” said Arpin.
“[She] lost a tough match to the silver medalist, which was very close as she scored 18 and 16 points against her.”
Other Owl finishers included Kirsten Armstrong placing fourth in junior girls' singles, while the junior mixed doubles tandems of Kiera Govier and Joe Tiboni and Naomi Carradice and Caleb Jack-Gibbins tied for fourth with Shayna Hensrud and Jeremy Arch Kelly of the Kenora Broncos.
At the NWOSSAA championships today, players must finish within the top two in their respective divisions to qualify for OFSAA, which is slated for May 2-4 in North Bay.