By Dexter LeRuez
The Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold badminton team finished seventh in the 2023 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Badminton Championship at Kerr Hall Upper Gym.
The three-day event, which TMU hosted for the first time since 2018, was capped off with the Bold’s 7-3 victory over the University of Guelph (U of G) Gryphons to secure seventh place on Feb. 19.
“It’s always more exciting for the home team,” said fourth-year badminton player Yufei ‘Fred’ Yin. “It just feels like [your] home court, and you want to win more.”
Despite the home court advantage, TMU had tough competition in their pool. They started their tournament losing 7-3 to the McMaster University Marauders, followed by a 10-0 sweep courtesy of eventual champions, the York University Lions, to end their Friday.
Saturday didn’t start much better for the Bold, who lost 9-1 against the University of Waterloo Warriors, who finished second in the tournament, in their third pool match.
Despite the poor start, there was still hope for the Bold, who’d play for seventh if they could defeat the Ontario Tech University Ridgebacks.
The Bold’s home-court advantage was finally evident in their last qualification tie as the home team took the series 7-3 to guarantee a spot in Sunday’s match.
“Home-court advantage was definitely a necessity,” said TMU assistant coach Ra Seang. “Our lighting system is not the greatest but we took advantage of it, and we got a few good wins off of those.”
Following their win, the TMU players could “stretch, rest and actually prepare themselves for tomorrow,” according to TMU head coach Elena Ng.
Ng’s break from action consisted of analyzing the Ridgebacks’ match against the University of Guelph Gryphons, a game to determine the Bold’s opponent on Sunday.
The coaching staff’s decision to scout the Gryphons proved valuable as U of G would face TMU for seventh place in the tournament following their 8-2 victory over the Ridgebacks.
In their final match against Guelph, the Bold’s knowledge of their opponent’s playstyle was pivotal as TMU cruised to a 7-3 win to finish the tournament in seventh.
“We definitely exploited more of their weakness in terms of overall court coverage,” said Seang. “[We] made our players play more to the open spots rather than toward them and I definitely think that helped us gain the momentum and the win.”
But scouting wasn’t the only reason for the Bold’s success. Performances from some of the Bold’s standout talent was required to overcome the odds. Players like Jane Zhou, who secured victories in women’s singles and doubles action, or second-year Ivan Li, who had two wins in men’s doubles both played very well for the Bold at the tournament.
But it was first-year Tanish Labha who shined the brightest for the Bold. Tanish went 2-1 in men’s singles action and collected another big win in men’s doubles during TMU’s seventh-place match.
“Tanish would probably be the most improved [player],” said Seang. “This was, I believe, his first year in the OUA setting. He played some tough matches and he actually came through.”
Although the Bold had promising performances, the team fell short of their pre-tournament aspirations.
“We wanted to go out in sixth, to be honest,” said Seang. “That’s our standard but with seventh, that’s still a win on our end.”
Elsewhere, the 2023 OUA Badminton Championship saw a new champion for the first time since 2016. The University of Toronto Varsity Blues’ six-year championship streak ended as men’s MVP, Victor Lai and the York Lions took home their first banner since 2009.
Additionally, the University of Western Mustangs showed upward momentum in 2023. Led by women’s MVP Jacqueline Cheng, the Mustangs defeated the Varsity Blues in a 6-4 barnburner to claim first place in Pool A.
These shifts in the hierarchy of OUA badminton have made some in the Bold camp fear that the OUA tournament may be more difficult in the coming years.
“OUA next year will probably be even rougher knowing that there were some upsets earlier on,” said Seang. “The seeding is going to be not in our favour for next year.”
Additionally, roster instability may be on the minds of the Bold heading into next year. Four players from the Bold’s OUA championship roster are in their fourth and fifth years of eligibility. TMU may need to lean on its club roster or incoming talent to fill those vacant slots.
The TMU badminton team will host tryouts next fall for those students who are looking to get into badminton at the club or team level. Tryouts are open to all full-time TMU students.
“Hopefully for the tryouts for next year, we will see some amazing rookies and juniors come in,” said Seang. “That’s up to the gods, unfortunately, if they chose TMU.”