Eight teams, eight coaches, eight managers, 11 drivers, 1 staff member and a huge support network recently made the annual pilgrimage south the Palmerston North for the New Zealand Junior Team Championships 2023.
This is the 40th anniversary of this tournament, with a celebration function held on the first evening prior to the tournament starting. This was a time to reflect, reminisce, laugh, tell stories and celebrate what badminton was to what badminton has become.
On Sunday 2 July, the tournament started with four age groups: u13, u15 u17 & u19 taking to the courts in the endeavor to make the podium at the completion of four days of play. North Harbour was seeded first in each age group with their number two teams sitting further down the list.
The u13 entry was vast with three divisions created to cater for the teams. North Harbour team one and two were both in division one, signaling from the start their intention to be competitive. The u13 1 team went about their task methodically, showing skill and composure beyond their years. Playing seven ties, the team only dropped three matches throughout the competition, leaving them undoubtedly the 2023 champions. The u13 two team has an extremely competitive tournament which left them in fifth place overall.
In the next age group, the two North Harbour u15 teams were playing in division one. Team 1 were never threatened in their ties, with a win/loss match ratio of 105/7, setting them up for a final tie against Counties Manukau which they comfortably won 10-6. Team 2 had a blistering start to their campaign beating Wellington North 15-1. During the five days of competition, they had wins and losses, missing out on the third/fourth playoff by one game. They ended up playing off for 5/6 place on the final day against Auckland Taniwha, who they beat in a close tie, 9-7.
The North Harbour u17 teams, also both in division one finished at either end of the points table. Team two found it a challenge in this division, however, gave it their all to remain competitive. Team one played 92 matches across the competition, dropping only eleven, with eight of those losses on during the final tie against Auckland Taniwha. In a tie that came down to the wire, North Harbour emerged victorious on a countback, winning by three games and confirming their number one position.
Over in the u19 competition, it played out in a similar fashion to the u17s. Our number two team had tough competition throughout the week but fought well to ensure personal victories. Team one cruised through the first four days of competition without dropping a match until finals day. Up against Auckland Taniwha, who came out firing, the first few matches did not go according to the North Harbour plan. Having to win the final two mixed doubles matches to even consider a countback, Chris Benzie and partner Amanda Ting won theirs in three games. It was then up to Jaden Mingoa and Berry Ng to stay composed throughout their match, and having to win in two games to take the tie to a points countback.
Being the last match playing in the stadium and their court surrounded by screaming spectators, the atmosphere was electric. Holding their nerve in the second game, with Auckland taking the game to extension, Mingoa and Ng won 26-24 to secure the game, match and tie win for the u19 1 North Harbour team. With only 16 points separating the two associations, this will go down in history as one of the most thrilling finishes to the New Zealand Junior Team Championships.
Since the inception of having four age groups competing at the New Zealand Junior Team Championships, this is the first time one association has made a clean sweep. Coincidently, this was all done on World Badminton Day!