Monday, May 27, 2024

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Grateful Vedant Sardeshpande runs down another new Canadian experience, an OFSAA badminton title

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By Martin Cleary

St. Joseph High School’s Vedant Sardeshpande is a gracious champion.

Competing in his first OFSAA badminton championship nine months after moving to Ottawa with his family from Pune, India, the Grade 11 student-athlete solved a lot of questions on the fly, with his new school, city and country continuing to present eye-opening and exciting experiences for him.

But what remained constant for him in his changing world was his technical ability as a badminton player. That was clearly evident for three days last week on the courts at Georgian College in Barrie. Sardeshpande went undefeated in his five boys’ singles main draw matches and earned the provincial high school gold medal – the first for an Ottawa player in 14 years.

Every match was a new adventure, but he solved each one with his various strategies and counterattacks. In the end, he felt good about his achievements, but more importantly, he was filled with gratitude for the assistance he has received from the people in his growing community.

“It was very good. I felt good,” Sardeshpande said about rallying to defeat Ethan Zhang of the York Region Athletic Association 16-21, 21-11, 21-17 in the boys’ singles gold-medal final.

“I expected to have very good results and win first place. I have very good fitness. I keep running (on the court) and my opponents get tired. I have a habit of running long distance and my mom is a nutritionist, so I know what to eat.”

Sardeshpande, the recent 2024 Quebec junior U19 boys’ singles champion, defeated two notable players in his final two OFSAA matches.

Zhang is the current Ontario U19 bronze medallist, who scored a semi-final upset over Ferdinand Zhang, the third-ranked U17 player in Canada and the Ontario U17 champion. John Fu of the Central Western Ontario Secondary Schools Association, who lost to Sardeshpande in the semifinals, is ranked 18th in Canada in the boys’ U17 division.

Sardeshpande’s championship victory was the fifth time since 1996 that an Ottawa high school player had won the OFSAA boys’ singles title. The others were: Kirk Hansen (2010), Kevin Cao (2009), Joseph Rogers (2006) and Andrew Dabeka (1996).

The gold medal by Sardeshpande was the most significant achievement by the 16-player National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association team, which won a total of five medals at various levels – one gold, three silver and one antique bronze (fourth place).

“The gold medal that Vedant won at OFSAA this weekend is due to his incredible hard work and motivation to improve,” St. Joseph coach Austin Flannigan wrote in an email interview.

“On a weekly basis, Vedant would train four times at the R.A. Centre, two to three times at St. Joseph’s and once at the SCaPT club (which is for elite players in the city).”

Vedant Sardeshpande. Photo: OFSAA

Since his first OFSAA experience was so new to him – not knowing his competition, the venue and all other aspects of the provincial high school championship – he received plenty of encouragement from his immediate badminton circle.

“I was a little nervous, but not too much,” said Sardeshpande, who added he received great support from the other Ottawa players on his NCSSAA team.

Flannigan, a former high school champion at La Citadelle Catholic High School in Cornwall and the current director of senior development for the Ottawa District Badminton Association, also played a valuable role in Sardeshpande’s success at OFSAA.

“This was a very new experience for me. I was playing new players I wasn’t familiar with,” he added. “But school coach Mr. Flannigan’s guidance gave me the confidence to achieve this title.”

The Barrhaven resident also was thankful for the important help from the St. Joseph school community.

“School is good … I’m catching up. It’s new,” he added. “I appreciate my school for the time to play as well as their support and encouragement.

“I wanted to bring this gold medal at OFSAA at Barrie for my school St. Joseph and NCSSAA as it has been a long time since 2010. It was a compVedant Sardeshpandeletely new experience for me – new courts, new environment, unknown players were challenges for me. But one thing I knew (was) the consistency in my game.”

During the badminton season, Sardeshpande woke up at 6 a.m. two to three times a week to attend practice sessions with Flannigan on the St. Joseph school court. They trained from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.

“Being an exceptional mentor and a positive influencer, his mentorship has made a profound impact in my victory,” Sardeshpande continued. “He also helped me join SCaPT Badminton Club, where I got the opportunity to play with the best players in Ottawa.”

Vedant Sardeshpande (right) and St. Joseph Jaguars badminton coach Austin Flannigan. Photo: OFSAA

It also helped when Sardeshpande started playing badminton in 2017 in Pune, he learned the game under coach and 2004 Olympian Nikhil Kanetkar and rallied with many top Indian and international players.

Sardeshpande also was thankful for the continued support of his parents – father Vikram Sardeshpande, an IT solution architect, and mother Dr. Pranali Sardeshpande, a nutritionist. He talked to his parents after each day’s competition at OFSAA.

“I can never (give enough thanks) to my father … and mother … for always being there and making sacrifices for me,” Sardeshpande said. “My father also plays badminton, has coached me many times and always pushed me to do my best.

“My parents always motivated me to perform my best and enjoy the game.”

Reath Roth, a Grade 10 student-athlete at Colonel By, won his second OFSAA badminton medal in as many years, when he combined with Jessica Jian to earn the mixed doubles antique bronze for fourth place.

They won their first three matches before losing in the main draw semifinals. In the main draw consolation round, Roth and Jian were successful in their semifinal, but lost the final, which determined the third-place bronze medallist. Roth was the boys’ singles silver medallist at the 2023 OFSAA championships.

The NCSSAA team also collected three silver medals, which came from the other three singles players.

Vidun Nanayakkara of Holy Trinity won five of his seven boys’ matches and captured the flight B silver medal. Merivale’s Celine Karavaly was the girls’ flight B silver winner with a 4-2 record, while Nadine Buchanan of Franco-Cité had a 4-3 record and won the girls’ flight C silver.

The other NCSSAA players and their results were: Joley Yap and Erica Xu, Earl of March, girls’ doubles, flight A consolation semifinals; Isabell Seto and Gabriella Khalid-Leroux, Franco-Cité, girls’ doubles, flight B consolation round 1; Michael Qu and Kevin Chang, Merivale, boys’ doubles, flight B semifinals; Zachary Ng and Ethan Luo, West Carleton, boys’ doubles, flight C final; and Kevin Ding and Jennifer Li, Colonel By, mixed doubles, flight B consolation semifinals.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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