Pictured: Leilana Likuvalu. Photo Credit: Michael Jornal
You can imagine Leilana’s surprise at being selected for the Northern Marianas Pacific Mini Games 2022, only six months after taking up badminton.
Athleticism comes naturally to the 15-year-old player, more than half the age of her fellow compatriots which makes the team from Wallis and Futuna.
Back home, she is an avid volleyball player and rower. By the end of this year, she hopes to move to France to pursue more competitive sporting opportunities, meaning this opportunity to play in her first international tournament gives her an insight into an exciting future.
This year’s Pacific Mini Games prides itself on the values around forming one team. For the likes of young competitors such as Leilana, the experience is important for an athletes’ development.
“At first it was intimidating. I didn’t really feel in my place but by now, I am not afraid anymore”, says Leilana.
Citing opportunities to train and socialize with a team in the build up to competition, the opening ceremony and an athlete’s village fills her with confidence and knowledge to find her feet.
However, on day one of competition, Leilana found herself in an unusual position. Alone on court in the women’s singles match against Marine Souviat. With no teammates to rely on, other than the reassuring cheers from the crowd, Leilana had to pull her mental strength together to compete against the more experienced New Caledonian.
“Playing singles is like learning how to fly. You have to cover a lot of space, very quickly”, says Leilana.
After completing her first singles game against New Caledonia’s Marine Souviat, she left the court with plenty of learnings.
Later in the afternoon in their tie against Guam, she partnered with Julien Dauptain in the mixed doubles, narrowly losing out in three excruciatingly close games 21-23 21-13 19-21.
“My opponents were really good. It was a great experience for me. Of course, I am still learning. I take notes from my opponent and I try to take them on board and incorporate into my game”, says Leilana.
“I need to develop my technique. But most of all, from the start I just told myself to have the most fun and enjoy myself”. Embodying the true spirit of the games and demonstrating excellent sportsmanship, it sounds like there is an exciting future ahead for Leilana.
Follow all results from the Mixed Team event at the Northern Marianas Pacific Mini Games 2022 on Tournament Software.
Watch all matches on courts one and two throughout the event for free, on the official YouTube channel.