Seventeen Notre Dame High School badminton players qualified for provincials, and it took all 17 for the Cougars to emerge as 4A provincial team championships.
For the first time in 22 years, the winner of that title is not from Edmonton or Calgary. Notre Dame became only the fourth team in the Alberta Schools Athletic Association to win the team championship joining Harry Ainlay, Western Canada and Archbishop Macdonald.
Coach Michael McAdam stressed the importance of the team effort as those who didn’t win a medal still put up points that garnered the team championship.
“This was the last award presented at provincials,” said McAdam. “We knew we would be close sending 17 players. It was suspenseful towards the end. When we heard we won it, it was pretty exciting in the gym. We cheered pretty loud.
“It’s a hard award to achieve. You have to have many players go up against the big schools. It’s a big accomplishment for a city like Red Deer.”
All 17 collected points for the Cougars over the weekend in Edmonton. Their point total put them on top of the province, giving the team a banner to hang at the Notre Dame gym.
Close doesn’t really describe Ben LeBlanc’s final loss. The junior boys silver medalist led in both of the games of his final set, but lost 26-28 and 20-22. In semifinals, he persevered through a tough, rollercoaster of a match but won and punched his ticket to the finals.
“I was up 10-1 in the third (and deciding) set, then he was up 19-14 and then I won 21-19,” said LeBlanc, who overcame the adversity.
“It involved me hitting my racket on my leg a few times, but I focused in and got through.”
The Grade 10s on the team were strong players for the Cougars with three medalists in bunch, LeBlanc’s A side silver as well as Jenna Hollman and Shae Bilodeau’s gold in junior girls A side doubles and Rene Grise’s B side gold.
Like LeBlanc, Hollman and Bilodeau had to overcome some adversity when Hollman started “losing her grip.”
“I went a little downhill and my partner picked it up for me,” said Hollman. “That’s why I like doubles. When you mess up, you have someone else to rely on. I started hitting the net lots and I got frustrated, but she picked me back up.”
For Grise, the fun was being able to spend the weekend with friends while competing.
“Badminton is only a five week season,” said McAdam. “To have them playing club badminton year-round definitely helped them prepare for provincials.”
Coach Ngan Nguyen agreed there is a strong foundation in feeder schools and in club play that led to the success of the team.
In that five week season, the team managed to schedule only 12 practices. Areas and zones happened in rapid succession and then on May 5 they were off to provincials.
“As coaches we’re happy to see individual players place, by all means,” said Nguyen. “As a team, this award is what we’re gunning for.”
Coach Leroy Stanisclaus called Badminton more of a team sport than people realize and the team championship they won exemplifies that.
“Even sitting around and cheering on each other and watching each other’s games,” he said. “It was good for the kids who didn’t make it to the semifinals, cheering on their teammates and not even knowing they contributed to the banner. For the kids who didn’t make it to the semifinals or get a medal, this is a big achievement.”