Whitehead’s showing top notch

Think back to when you were in Grade 9 and entering high school for the first time.
Though most of us know a few of our classmates, for the most part it’s an entirely overwhelming feeling when you walk through the doors and are about to take part in a whole new experience.
Now, let’s say you were an athlete in high school but instead of facing peers who are your age, you’re going against competitors who are older, stronger, and faster than you are.
For most of us, it would be a very tall obstacle to try and overcome, which is what makes Taylor Whitehead’s performance this year for the Muskie badminton team extremely impressive.
In his first year of playing high school badminton, Whitehead had the looks of a seasoned veteran—dominating everyone in front of him in the NorWOSSA ranks and then going undefeated at the NWOSSAA championships to nab a provincial berth.
Now granted, Whitehead already is a very strong badminton player to begin with, and has been to the youth nationals in both 2011 and 2012. But to enter the high school ranks for the first time and compile a perfect record to earn a spot at the provincial championships is absolutely ridiculous.
Competing at OFSAA is an entirely different kettle of fish, however, compared to regular league play here, but Whitehead was able to make the adjustments he needed to against the province’s best.
With a fourth-place finish in the ‘C’ flight, and an antique bronze medal now hanging around his neck, the sky is the limit for Whitehead as he has three more years of high school eligibility remaining.
It will be exciting to see what the 14-year-old can accomplish next.
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Speaking of impressive accomplishments, the SIJHL champion Minnesota Wilderness are headed to the Royal Bank Cup in Summerside, P.E.I. later this week after capturing the 2013 Dudley Hewitt Cup title Saturday night in North Bay.
After missing the playoffs in their first two trips to the central Canadian Junior ‘A’ championship, this time around the Wilderness finished in first place after the round-robin and earned a bye to the final against the OJHL champion St. Michael’s Buzzers.
Trailing 3-2, former Fort Frances Laker Ben Michaud tied the game for the Wilderness with 3:28 to go, which set the stage for Nick Szopinski’s title-clincher in the extra frame.
The win was a historic one for the Wilderness. Not only did they become the first American team to win the Dudley Hewitt Cup, but they also were the first team from south of the border to qualify for the Royal Bank Cup.
The triumph also was a huge one for the SIJHL, as the Wilderness became just the second team in league history to make it to the RBC since the Fort William North Stars accomplished that feat in 2006.
Compared to the OJHL and NOJHL, the SIJHL can be viewed as the weak sister when it comes to the three leagues that compete at the Dudley Hewitt Cup. But with a win like this, it goes to show that on any given day, those in the local league can give other junior ‘A’ teams in this province a run for their money.
When it comes to the Royal Bank Cup, the Wilderness will be in tough once again as the second-ranked team in the CJHL will have two big games right off the bat.
In their opener Saturday night, they’ll be matched up against the host Summerside Western Capitals. Then they’ll have to take on the Brooks Bandits, the top-ranked team in all of Canada during the regular season.
In addition to those contests, the Wilderness also will have to face the Truro Bearcats of Nova Scotia and the Surrey Eagles from British Columbia, who also were in the top 20 rankings this year.
It’s hard to say what will happen to the Wilderness on a national stage, especially in a field as strong as this one.
But if their level of play is the same as what it has been all season, they should be right in the mix once the playoff round starts next weekend.