Shuttlecock season is in full flight and the NAIT Ooks’ badminton team is on the road back to the nationals. Last season was unlike previous years – the team made it to the nationals but won no medals.
Prior to last season, the Ooks had earned a national medal every year since 2008. This season shows a mix of returning players and a couple of rookies. The team has a well-rounded roster hoping to restart the trend of capturing national medals.
NAIT has also dominated badminton at the provincial level. This is nothing new for NAIT head coach Sinead Cheah, a former Ook, who is used to their wins. NAIT has won the team banner at the provincials seven of the last nine seasons. The two years the team did not win was because there was no season.
Last season had its ups and downs for the squad.
Nicolas Roque is one of the longest tenured players on the team. He has been a part of the last three provincial team championships, and also won the mixed doubles championship last year. Roque was one of five men and five women to represent the Ooks at Nationals in 2016.
“Last year we had the most players going to Nationals but no one was able to win,” recalls Roque.
The first of three ACAC tournaments for 2017/2018 was Nov.19 and NAIT finished second with 151 points. Roque was able to capture first in men’s doubles and second in mixed doubles. NAIT rookie and highly touted player Eyota Kwan was able to take second in women’s singles and first in women’s doubles.
NAIT was only three points out of first place, which went to the Concordia University Thunder, with 154 points. NAIT and Concordia have a known rivalry, and this year is no different.
“It’s always been close between NAIT and Concordia,” recalls Roque. CUE and NAIT have been the standard bar of the ACAC conference.
“Last tournament was the first time in a long time that they beat us,” continued Roque. The Thunder has its share of national players that makes them a tough matchup.
“Practise harder and focusing on our events,” stated Kwan when asked what would help get the Ooks back to Nationals. “There is a lot of pressure to do well,” added Roque.
Roque has seen different teams throughout his time at NAIT and says the strongest part of a team isn’t always their physical or fundamental skills.
“The strongest part is the team chemistry. We all get along and it makes it easier,” he said.
Currently Concordia is in first place in the ACAC standings, and NAIT is in second. Third and fourth place are taken by Olds College and King’s University, respectively.
The Ooks roster has gained experience from last year’s national run and they hope to apply it to this year. With a mix of new and returning players, along with some mental conditioning, the Ooks have their sights set on earning national medals this year.
– Peter Go
– Photo supplied by NAIT