The story wasn’t that Atikokan would win the trophy.
That much was pretty much guaranteed (if you took a peek at the NorWOSSA badminton team trophy, you would have seen for yourself why such a statement is justified).
The modest hardware, which weighs less than 10 pounds and doesn’t even come to the knees of an observer who stands 5’9”, sports 22 plates around its four-sided base—only two of which aren’t inscribed with Atikokan’s name (Dryden won the trophy in ’83 and ’84).
So when Atikokan was awarded the trophy last Wednesday at Fort High, after close to 150 matches were played, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone. The only question was by how much.
This time, Atikokan notched 89 of a possible 310 points, with St. Thomas Aquinas (Kenora) finishing second with 55.
But drama is only visible by those who choose to find it, and there was plenty involving the 10 players who made up the Muskie team at the NorWOSSA showdown.
“They [Atikokan] always win,” said Tina Caul, who paired up with Lacey Johnson in the junior girls’ doubles division. “Badminton is all they play over there.”
First there was Sandi Elliot and the sprained ankle she suffered in her first match against Allison Loucks from Beaver Brae (Kenora) in the junior girls’ singles division.
“I fell down and wiped out, and I felt it right away,” recalled Elliot, 15.
But she didn’t stay down.
She continued the match and though she lost, it was after a talk with her coach, Brian Church, that Elliot decided to keep playing.
And the decision paid off as she won her next four matches despite the bad ankle to claim the second berth in that division at NWOSSAA, which is being held today (Wednesday) in Manitouwadge.
“I was going to quit, but my coach told me to keep going and ice it and get it taped. It hurt lots, but it was all right,” said Elliot, in her first year of competitive badminton (she played squash for four years).
“I thought I was going to come into this season as the worst player on the whole team, so this feels great,” Elliot added.
Loucks went undefeated to take first place in that division.
The next dramatic plot occurred in the junior boys’ singles division that featured two friends (but also athletic rivals) in Tim Desjardins and John McCormack.
Their story got more interesting with each match.
McCormack started his tourney with two early losses, but finished with three wins for a share of second place at 3-2 along with Desjardins and Jeremy Thompson (St. Thomas Aquinas).
It was McCormack who was visibly the most excited of the playoff situation that had risen and though he was given a tongue-in-cheek lecture from his coach, Manami Alexander, for eating half of a Coffee Crisp bar before his match (she explained how the initial sugar rush is proceeded by a downward spiralling loss of energy), he proceeded to snack on Thompson in the first playoff game.
“I guess I’ll have to beat him quickly then,” rebutted McCormack, who would win 15-12.
That would advance McCormack to the final with his opponent yet to be decided as Thompson now had to play Desjardins. But a visibly tired Thompson couldn’t overcome a rested Desjardins, who won 15-10.
Both had played each other countless times over the last couple of months, but none of those games could compare to the importance of this one—win and you move on to Manitouwadge; lose and you stay home.
Desjardins came out quickly, leading 7-2 at one point, but McCormack stormed back with three-straight points to pull within two.
Desjardins stemmed the charge, however, and cruised to a 15-9 win to claim the second NWOSSAA berth.
“We’ve played each other so many times, but this was the biggest game by far,” said Desjardins, 15. “So I’m pretty happy with the way things worked out.”
“I could’ve done better, but I’m still happy,” remarked a disheartened McCormack, 14, while sitting in an isolated corner of the locker-room as he laced up his street shoes.
Scene three of the drama focused on Simone Desjardins, who was unsure she would be a member of the Muskie team. But the three-time OFSAA competitor decided at the last-minute to put her name in for the qualifier in Atikokan.
“I wasn’t planning on playing this year,” said Desjardins, 18, who earned second place in the senior girls’ singles division with a 4-1 record to advance to Manitouwadge.
“I haven’t played for quite a while, so I just want to go as far as I can,” she added.
Two others who hadn’t played for quite a while as a team was the duo of Natalie Desjardins (are you starting to see a trend with the Desjardins family?) and Justin Enge.
This was their first year as a team but they’ve had nothing but success so far, going undefeated (5-0) in the senior mixed doubles’ division to snag the first berth to NWOSSAA.
This will be Enge’s first trip to NWOSSAA while Desjardins has advanced to this level a number of times.
“We’re just going to go to NWOSSAA and do the same things we did today,” said Enge, 17. “We’ve got to stay focused and don’t ever give up, and always have fun.
“It’s not just about winning, but it’s also about having fun.”
“At first I was unsure about partnering with Justin,” admitted Desjardins, 16, who also plays for the Muskie girls’ soccer team after having been on both the basketball and volleyball squads earlier this school year.
“But he’s pretty strong and I’m really proud that we’ve made it this far.”
Other Muskies who had qualified for NorWOSSA but didn’t advance to NWOSSAA was the junior boys’ tandem of Tim Bruyere and Matt Jolicoeur, who finished in fifth place at 2-3, and the junior girls’ duo of Caul and Johnson, who finished in third in their division (2-2).
The Muskies wound up in fourth place in the team standings with 48 points, four points behind third-place Beaver Brae (52).
Rainy River finished fifth with 25 points, followed by Dryden (22), Red Lake (18), and Ignace (one).
The story wasn’t that Atikokan would win the trophy.