"We haven't really talked about it in terms of specific numbers (of athletes)," stated incoming Cambrian College head coach Jim Duff, attending a media reception earlier this summer that included the announcement regarding the re-introduction of the varsity badminton team.
"If we are able to field a team with five female and five male athletes, to me, that's a bonus."
Here's hoping that Duff had that particular bonus written into his contract.
All kidding aside, it is nothing if not encouraging to see a 10-player delegation of Golden Shield badminton enthusiasts recently return from the Fanshawe Invitational. Now comes the time to groom and mold that group.
"We were pleasantly surprised by the numbers," acknowledged Duff at the team practice on Wednesday. "But even at the college level, I've been surprised at how wide the spectrum of talent is at these tournaments. Some of our guys have never played in a tournament before and they're going there and getting wins, albeit consolation (draw) wins, but still getting wins."
"It gives them confidence."
In that sense, Duff has a wonderful handle on the scope of talent at his disposal, from those who should be able to contend for a spot at the OCAA Championships in March, to those whose success might simply be measured in being able to pick up a set win or two along the way.
Even his approach at team workouts is geared towards personalizing the message on a player to player basis. "I was taught that everybody should do the same drill, but what you expect from everybody within that drill will be different," he said. "Everybody does the same drill, but I'm looking for different results."
If there is one particularly appealing silver lining to working with relative newcomers to the sport, it lies in the fact that their learning curve can be quite vertical compared to the more experienced badminton types.
"We're doing the same warm-ups, every day, and you see the difference in the quality of the warm-up," said Duff. "Even within the tournament, you could see the intensity go up and up and up with some of our players."
A first year student in the Environmental Technician program, 18 year old Destinee Lafond is fine with looking at a longer term payoff. A school-system player from grade seven through to her graduation from Atikokan High School last June, the multi-sport athlete (she would have played varsity basketball at Cambrian had they had a team) capped her career, back home, with an appearance at OFSAA last spring.
This, however, is a whole new world.
"The players are really well trained, they know what they're doing, and I'm a rookie, pretty much," said Lafond with a laugh. For as much as she was part of the wide array of badminton folks who would assemble once a week in a quasi-club setting in her northwestern home of some three thousand residents, the specificity of the coaching at the OCAA offers a new layer to her game.
"It's a lot more technical here, just learning how to serve properly, the position where you have to have your hand on the racquet, in order to move it certain ways," she said. And then there is that mental part of the sport, the more intrinsic challenge that might be a tougher nut to crack.
"For me, personally, when I mess up, I tend to get down on myself," she said. "That's my big issue. I have to work on that."
That hurdle, however, is one that she can share thoughts with even her more accomplished teammates. Confederation Secondary School graduate Cameron Duff made a habit of attending OFSAA during his time as a Charger, typically alongside mixed doubles partner Stephanie Smuland.
Now 20 years of age and with his initial degree in Welding and Fabrication behind him, the current student in the General Business stream is hoping to parlay the exposure he garnered both through the school and club setting, as a member of the Sudbury Junior Badminton Club, into a level of success with the college elite.
"The separation between the really good players and the good players is that mental game, knowing which shots to be able to hit, being able to keep your composure," said Duff. "Based on my first tournaments, I feel that I can kind of hang with the best players there. But I need to work on my consistency and composure, not getting frustrated."
Given the variety of matches he has played over the years, Cameron Duff was not particularly shocked at the level of play at a typical OCAA tournament, even if he did draw a distinction between this setting and his experience from multiple OFSAA appearances.
"It's (OCAA) what I expected," he said. "It's strong, really strong, but I think I have a good chance of doing well this year. It is better than OFSAA. All around, everyone is stronger. At OFSAA, there is a big gap between the top players and the lower end players. At college, everyone is pretty good, and there are a few top players who are much better than everyone else."
With that in mind, Duff has doubled down on the seriousness with which he proceeds with his goal to be the best that he can be on the court. "I think I'm the best I've ever been right now - at singles, especially," he said. "I've been playing a lot lately, training a lot. My cardio is better than it's ever been, with running and biking."
All of which makes his father, and coach, quite happy.
"I think we could qualify two entries to provincials, that's my goal," said Jim Duff.
As for the specific category in which it might happen, coach Duff is a little less detailed. "We need to look at both what's best for the athlete and what's best for the college, because we do want to achieve some results."
Results that were made far easier, given the numbers the revived sport has been able to attract.
Joining Duff and Lafond on the 2019-2020 Cambrian badminton team roster are Page Skrenski, Keighley Steinke-Gauthier, Vanessa Belanger, Joanne Tan, Manmeet Singh Duggal, Basil Komatheldho, Simon Freer and Sachin Davasia.