On 15 December, the Westville Boys’ High badminton team catches a flight to Mauritius to represent not only the Griffins, but South Africa, at the All Africa Championships. It is both a reward and a mission after their success in winning the SA Schools title this year.
That tournament was played in Durban, with the toughest competition coming from DHS and Jim Fouché of Bloemfontein. “It was either Jim Fouché or DHS [who would be our toughest competition],” team captain Heath Delport said in a recent chat, “but DHS made some poor decisions on their matchings, so we didn’t meet them in the final, where we could have.
“I was expecting those two. I knew we had to go through both of them to win.”
In mentioning matchings – the combinations used in doubles – he touched on a critical aspect of the competition and of coaching, because, as he explained: “We can’t always play our strongest combinations, because we all have to play a certain amount, so it was a strategic thing about who plays with which partner when.”
However, both Heath and Ronan du Plessis, ranked number one in South Africa in the under-17 age group and part of the KZN team that won the inter-provincial title, agreed that when it came to strategy Westville had an ace up their sleeve in the form of coach Demi Botha, who has represented South Africa in international competition. She’s been coaching the boys who are now in the first team since they were in grade 8.
“She knows our strengths and weaknesses. She makes our partnerships work. She knows which combinations can win games, because you can’t always have your two strongest players playing together. Sometimes you have to play seeds one and four together. She knows where and when to play those to win the game. That really helps,” Heath said.
“I think a big reason why we won was her making sure we played in the right spots. She was very important.
“Also, she kept us calm, because it was very nerve-wracking. In one of the games (against Jim Fouché), it came down to the third set and the last point. If we lost that, the pressure would have been on us.”
After Covid-19 wreaked havoc on most sports during 2020 and 2021, it was enjoyable to get back to playing badminton throughout the year, Ronan said. There were some challenges, though. “Training stopped for a year, so going from doing nothing was challenging,” he explained.
Eyes of the prize
Nonetheless, from the start of the year, the goal, Heath and Ronan admitted, was to win the SA Schools title.
How exactly did they go about turning that goal into a reality? Heath explained what team aspects and personal responsibilities they focused on: “A lot of it was getting fit. It’s a long game, and it really matters in the third set, when it comes down to the wire.
“It was also playing with everyone, and knowing how everyone played. You can’t carry a game if your partnership is not really working. You must know if he moves, you move.”
Preparations for Mauritius
Preparing for the competition that lies ahead in Mauritius has been taxing because the four team members – Heath, Ronan, Joshua Booyens and Shaun Montague – have had to focus on the end of year school exams. They’ve worked around them, however, to be prepared for the on-court tests that lie ahead.
Maintaining good fitness levels has been a point of emphasis, but the boys have had to look after that individually. They’ve managed to get in one practice during each week, and one on Saturdays, while also fitting in social games when time has allowed that.
They go into the All Africa Championships without much knowledge of what await them. The hosts, Mauritius, are a traditional African badminton power, but beyond that they don’t know who they’ll be facing. Both Ronan and Heath expect that the toughest competition, apart from the hosts, will come from north Africa and countries like Egypt, Algeria and Morocco.
Taking on the challenge in the right manner
One thing Heath will be focusing on is taking on the challenge in the right manner: “It’s all about your team’s morale,” he said, while discussing his role as captain. “If they’re down, it’s all about making sure the energy is good. If you lose a game, it’s water off a duck’s back. Don’t worry about it.
“Also, war cries! You need to intimidate the other teams,” he laughed.
“Off the court, it’s also about talking to other people, being sociable with the other countries and other schools.”
The Griffins carry the support and hopes of the Westville Boys’ High family, as well as those of South Africa, with them. If you would like to support them on their quest, you can do so at https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/westville-boys-high-school-badminton-5424312793523391782
You can also support coach Demi Botha, as she accompanies the boys to the event, at Demi Botha Fundraising for Mauritius :: Champion Page | BackaBuddy