The Firehawks of Fraser Heights sure are good at badminton.
The Surrey squad won its fifth consecutive provincial high school championship in Richmond on June 2, giving it top spot over more than 120 teams that play the racket sport at B.C. schools.
This year, the Firehawks cut down Pinetree of Coquitlam by an impressive 10-1 score in the final.
It’s the eighth provincial medal for the Fraser Heights badminton team over the past nine years, and represents the school’s sixth ever provincial title, in any sport.
That’s right, badminton is the only sport in which Fraser Heights has soared to the top, provincially, since the school opened in 1999, according to David Dryden, who volunteers his time to coach at his former school.
He played on the school’s first ever badminton team, and Dryden is now in his 10th year as head coach there.
“After our championship performance last year, and with only three of our starting players graduating, we knew this year had the potential to be special,” Dryden said.
“Our boys were the top in B.C., but badminton is a co-ed sport, and our girls were going to have to work very hard to keep up with some of the top schools.”
In the true spirit of teamwork, he said, the boys volunteered time outside of practices to help mentor and train the girls.
“And after months of hard work, we prevailed one more time, sparring off tough competition from Steveston-London, who we hadn’t played since 2015 in provincial competition, and closing off Fraser Valley rival Pinetree with a brilliant performance of execution in the finals.
“This victory wouldn’t have been possible without the support of former-player-now-coach Jenna Wong,” Dryden added, “and the hard work displayed by all of the players exemplifying the true spirit of being a Firehawk.”
The 15-player Fraser Heights squad includes Daryl Yang, Sheldon Xu, Jasper Mai, Ian Chen, Derick Yuan, Daniel Yang, Ryan Liu, Daniel Kim, Lily Niu, Sarah Chung, Sophini Purewal, Christie Xu, Casey Xu, Samantha Hsu and Irene Liu.
In B.C., high school badminton is structured as a team sport played from March to June, with a best-of-11 format for each series.
“The sport is often perceived as being an individual one, and it is at the international level, mostly, but at the high school level here it’s set up as a team sport, comprised as a series of individual matches,” Dryden explained. “So when it’s a team vs school, it’s 11 matches. Five are boys, five are girls and one is mixed, one boy and one girl.”
In Richmond, the 16-team provincial tourney saw the Firehawks reach the final for the seventh straight year. The won it all for the first time in 2012, and lost the following year to rival St. George’s/Crofton House. Since then, however, it’s been all Fraser Heights.
During the 2018 provincial tourney, the team’s record was 39 wins and five losses, only a hair below the lofty 40-4 record of last year’s squad.
The semifinal, an 8-3 series win over Richmond’s Steveston/London squad, was the team’s toughest battle.
The final was a rematch of the Fraser Valley championship, and Fraser Heights prevails in what Dryden calls a demonstration of skill, confidence and momentum.
Tourney results are posted at bcschoolbadminton.com.
“It’s been a process,” he said, “and I’m passionate about the sport, and thankfully at this school we have a great group with a great work ethic, and it’s come from, you know, not making provincials for a couple years to medaling in our second ever provincial championships appearance and then winning it all in our fourth ever provincial appearance, back in 2012.”
Every year, the team sets the goal of making the provincial finals – not always an easy task, given the large Fraser Valley zone in which the squad plays.
“This zone has more than 34 school badminton teams,” Dryden noted, “so we come from the most competitive zone, and to even get into the provincial championships, so it’s been a really good experience for the kids to push themselves through the Fraser Valleys. Once they get to provincials, they’re a step ahead before they start competing against Vancouver and Richmond (school teams), etcetera.”
With another championship season in the books, the team will get going again next spring with Dryden as coach.
“When we have momentum like this, it’s hard to leave, especially when you spend a lot of time around the players and develop coaching relationships and they’ve worked so hard, you don’t want to leave during their grad year, their senior year. The work is never done.”