It’s not often a sports team comprised almost entirely of first- and second-year players garners the praise of its coach, but that’s exactly what VIU’s badminton squad has done this season.

Of the 13 players on the Mariner’s roster to start the campaign, only three are beyond sophomore status. Regardless, coach Janice Walker is not only impressed by the team’s skill but also the players’ ambition to continue improving.

“Sometimes you’ll get a few that are real keeners and you’ve always got some who will come in and don’t have as much badminton background, and I find that this year the new players that maybe don’t have the background, they’re just hooked [on the sport],” Walker says. “They’re watching badminton videos on the internet and just living and breathing badminton; which is pretty cool.”

The Mariners travel on a team trip once every two years, and this season they flew to Hawaii to play an international tournament and have the opportunity to bond. Walker says she was happy with the experience this team had on the trip.

“They were an excellent group to take on a trip like that,” Walker says. “They’re all so keen and it’s great team bonding, but honestly they were pretty close already.

“We had one away trip in the first semester and then one [tournament] here. They got to know each other quickly and they’ve been very good in supporting each other and really picking up the enthusiasm.” That energy and excitement is carrying onto the court as well, and many players are having a successful season in spite of not collecting quality results.

Walker explains that determining success isn’t as simple as reading score sheets. Each tournament the team plays five events—men’s and women’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles—against every team, with the squad winning three of five events advancing to the next round.

VIU didn’t win many rounds this season but had several close matches, and individual events drew better results than team play.

“There’s two parts to PacWest badminton,” Walker says. “One is the team event, which we play on the first day and we play individual events on the second day. At that point the playing field levels for us a little bit, and so we did well in the individual events.”

One of the Mariner’s brightest stars this season is first-year Science student Melissa Liew. The freshman from Winnipeg dominated the women’s singles event at the Honolulu Open and placed first in last month’s Douglas College tournament.

Seniors Zach Yim and Pat Thompson are called on to provide leadership for the young Mariner’s team, and Walker says, “They are definitely our veterans here.”

Walker says Thompson’s effort to improve in practice over the last year has been very noticeable on the court. He finished third in the men’s singles event at the Douglas tournament, a result that impressed his coach.

“Last year he would have been middle of the field and for him to be up in third this year is fantastic,” Walker says. “The men’s field is really strong [for] singles, it’s testimony to how hard he’s worked since last year to put himself in that position.”

Walker was also happy with the progress of Jordan Bartulabac and Lucy Bonar in the women’s doubles event, and while they didn’t leave with great results they performed well against strong pairings.

Team results for the Douglas tournament were also impaired by the departure of Eunice Chan, a skilled freshman player who did not return to VIU this semester.

“We had a bit of bad news at the beginning of this semester where we lost one of our two really strong girls, so without her that made it pretty tough in the team event,” Walker says.

VIU will lose fifth-year Yim at the end of the season but will otherwise remain intact if players return after next summer. For a squad still young in its rebuilding phase, this Mariners team has plenty of promise for the seasons to come.