Justine White of Stephenville is one of four players from this province taking part in the Yonex Canadian Junior and Under-23 National Championships in Toronto, Ont. May 1-6. Star photos by Frank Gale
Justine White was going through a tumultuous time in her life when badminton became a blessing in disguise.
White, a 17-year-old Stephenville High student, was only in Grade 3 when she sat quietly in her classroom as badminton guru Mike Alexander of Stephenville did a presentation on the sport to a bunch of primary students.
It just happened to be what White needed as she was trying to cope with the death of her father Joe Brake.
"It was kind of emotional I was really young and all, and then that same year I joined badminton and I started getting involved with other kids. I started talking to them and making friends," she said.
Coach Alexander is the main reason she still enjoys the game today.
"I loved the way he coached and he just became really ... I looked up to him a lot and I still do," she said.
White, Emily Alexander and Bryan Downey, all of Stephenville, and Andrea Anderson of Makkovik will be coach Mike Alexander's charges for Newfoundland and Labrador at the 2010 Junior National Badminton Championships, which get underway today.
White will compete in her first nationals, strutting her stuff in singles play, doubles action in the Under-19 age bracket with 18-year-old partner Andrea Andersen and is still waiting to hear back from tournament officials about securing a partner for mixed doubles play.
Singles is her favourite game because of the adrenaline rush she gets from being in total control of her destiny.
"I just get to control the entire game myself," she said.
White is excited about seeing how players from across the country approaches the sport and has realistic expectations about her debut on the national scene.
"To be very honest I don't believe that I am going to go there getting a gold medal or anything, not saying that I'm not going to try because I definitely will," she said. "This is a time where I can actually show people what I can do."
Meanwhile, Emily Alexander won her second-straight triple crown on the Atlantic Canada badminton scene and will make another appearance on the national scene. The 14-year-old Kippens native won gold in singles, doubles and mixed doubles in the Under-14 age bracket at the 2010 Black Knight Atlantic Junior Badminton Championships last week at the West Coast Training Centre.
"Last year was my first year at nationals, and it was brutal competition," Alexander said. "The athletes are amazing, and there is extreme talent shown. The highlight of my trip last year was definitely seeing the other top players play ... learning how they play and deciphering their game to try to help mine. Most times, you learn a lot more from losing than winning, but that only works if you're willing to benefit from your losses."
This time around, Alexander is pleased to be partnered with James Pinkuan Ho for mixed doubles. He is currently ranked No.1 in British Columbia for all U14 events.
"I hope this year we will be able to put up a strong fight with other competitors at the nationals," she said. " I now know the level of competition at the nationals is high, you don't get those easy games. Every game is a battle, and not always the best player wins. The player who plays the best is the one who wins - the one who makes the right decisions. That's why it is so important to always play your best and do your best because you can't control how other people play. Because if you only trained to their level, how can you expect to beat them?
She feels her performance at nationals hinges largely on the draw.
Last year she was in tough with some of the top-ranked players in the country providing the opposition.
"I really hope this year I won't get that kind of draw, but I'll just have to play it out if I do," he said. "One thing I've learned from badminton is to never believe you're going to lose. If you decide before the game that you're going to lose, you will. You've already lost."
Downey, who lost in the semifinal in singles action to Brandon Howland of New Brunswick at the Atlantic competition won gold in the Under-19 doubles.