By Sean Rooney
Alberta Newspaper Group
Second at the city meet last week, Eagle Butte’s Aiden Heller didn’t figure he’d be staring down a shot at provincials Wednesday at the South Zone high school badminton championships.
With only the top-two finishers advancing to the Alberta Schools Athletic Association finals in Calgary May 3 and 4, and all the Lethbridge and southern schools now in the mix, there were bound to be other guys beating him.
So when he got to the intermediate boys silver-medal game against Catholic Central’s Noah Lebleu, everything was already gravy.
“I honestly didn’t feel as nervous as when I was playing the other ones,” said Heller. “Those games (in the round robin), I won by two in both sets. This one I was pretty relaxed for.”
Sounds like a winning attitude, right?
Actually, it was Lebleu who won the match, 21-15 and 21-17. But Lebleu declined the spot at provincials due to injury concerns and prior commitments with baseball, and now Heller’s going to compete for an ASAA title.
At the time of Heller’s interview with the News, Lebleu hadn’t yet told zone officials he wasn’t going.
“I’m happy with bronze, I didn’t expect it,” said Heller.
There were plenty of happy campers as zone finals took place at Crescent Heights (singles) and Hat High (doubles). Even the guy Heller beat to get to the second-place match was thrilled, seemingly on every point. Hat High’s Ethan Knodel got pretty far considering this is only his first year playing competitively, the teen smiling widely before every point against Heller.
“Such a rivalry,” laughed Heller, noting they’d played each other a lot of times this season. “He’s got more experience.”
Knodel was pulling for Heller to win the silver.
On the next court over, Sebastian Wissler of Hat High was locked in a duel with Senator Gerhsaw’s Aidyn Phillips in senior boys singles. But with his mom taping it for his dad, who couldn’t be at Crescent Heights to watch in person, he definitely felt the pressure.
“With my mom recording it and my friends in the stands, it was definitely a little stressful,” said Wissler, who nonetheless earned a tense 21-15, 19-21, 21-19 win to secure silver.
“It feels good. Wipe my slate clean, play my best there, try to work on my footwork.”
To even be on the court would’ve seemed impossible a few months ago. Wissler hurt his left shoulder in a car accident in November but is finally recovered to earn a provincial spot for the second time. He went as a junior two years ago and will finish his high school career back against the province’s best; though he notes many of the club-level players are on the court seemingly 24/7 in preparation.
As for the top seeds from the South Zone in those two divisions, Chinook’s Kyle Lee won intermediate boys singles and Chinook’s Phil Tritz was the senior boys champion.
From Medicine Hat and area, Wissler and Heller are the only two singles but there are plenty of doubles teams who qualified.
Monsignor McCoy’s Parker Hope and Jordyn Fournier won senior mixed doubles over Catholic Central’s Zach Nagata and Mckenzie Quiros. Eagle Butte’s Raquel Waldbauer and Mac Duchscherer claimed junior girls doubles over Vauxhall’s Emma Visser and Britney Kambeitz. Gershaw duos Brendan Smith and Blayze Uchikura (intermediate boys doubles) and Taryn Smith and Jessica Andreas (intermediate girls doubles) both beat Churchill opponents for gold.
Silver medal finishers included Alexa Alino and Phoebe Gamao of Hat High (senior girls doubles), Ryley Manz and Brent Folk of McCoy (senior boys doubles), Tristin Duchscherer and Lexie Waldbauer of Eagle Butte (intermediate mixed doubles), and Denrei Tabuam and Kurt Magwali of Hat High (junior boys doubles).
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