Pictured: Damus Matakinio and Morani Karikia, Cook Islands. Photo credit: Badminton Victoria
When 15 and 16-year-old, Eleanor Wichman and Vaitoti Tupa walked on to the court against world number 79 pair, Oliver Leydon-Davis and Anona Pak, they knew they were about to be on the receiving end of their toughest match yet.
It was a challenging day for all of the aspiring juniors from Cook Islands. Danniel Daniel and Tereapii Akavi were up against two of Australia’s highest ranked Junior players, Angela and Jack Yu, while some of the other team members were up against top seeded players in the singles draw.
However, just like they did in last year’s Mixed Team event, the juniors let their team spirit shine through. To the delight of the more experienced players from Australia and New Zealand, their attitudes did not go unnoticed.
“The team had really good spirit, I could hear them cheering all the time and it shows in their communication with each other on the court”, says Anona Pak.
“I was surprised to find out they were junior players. I think they did really well and with more experience and working on their first three shots, I’m sure we’ll see lots of improvements in the future”, says Oliver Leydon-Davis.
All of the players in the team started playing badminton thanks to the BWF Shuttle Time programme, which inspired them to pick up a racket. Over the last year, they have attended two Pacific Junior Development camps in Auckland and last week’s Oceania Development Camp, organised by Badminton Oceania.
Naturally, the anticipation for the event was unsettling on day one, but experience is key for the player’s development.
“They were definitely nervous heading on to the courts today… it’s important for them to gain more experience and not to think too much about who they are playing against”, says team coach, Thomas.
The team are following a similar path to the youngsters from Tonga, who also came through the BWF Shuttle Time programme. With more experience on the international stage (with some of the players competing in last year’s YONEX North Harbour International too), the results are already paying off for the team.
Lata ‘Isitolo celebrated a huge win on day one, overcoming the Samoa 2019 Pacific Games gold medalist, Dgenyva Matauli. ‘Isitolo is up against last year’s Oceania Junior champion, Shaunna Li of New Zealand in the round of 16.
The Tongans have also participated in recent Pacific Junior and Oceania Development camps over the last year, and we are excited to see what the future holds for the enthusiastic youngsters.
Follow the results from the VICTOR Oceania Championships 2020 on Tournament Software.