Comfort on the court is very important to Darrel Harxhi of the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves.
That became apparent during the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association junior badminton championships at F.H. Sherman Recreation Centre on Wednesday (May 7). While all of the other Brebeuf entrants wore the school’s maroon-coloured T-shirts, Harxhi discarded his in favour of a blue top – one which read, 2013 Conference Champions, Denver Broncos.
“The sleeves were too long … that was the thing,” Harxhi said of his decision to change tops.
The Grade 9 student – yes, he’s a Denver Broncos fan — then proceeded to go out in style. He went undefeated in seven matches to capture the boys’ singles championship. In the final, he topped Joey DiLabbio of the Cardinal Newman Cardinals, 2-0 (21-8, 21-8).
“I’m pretty picky with what I wear when I play,” Harxhi said. “I ordered a medium, but it was quite large on me. It covered almost half my arm. It was a bit uncomfortable, so I decided to wear something else. I’d much rather be comfortable when I play.”
Harxhi and his family moved to Hamilton from Fort Erie last August. Tennis, however, is his main sport. He’s been one of the top-rated players by the Ontario Tennis Association in both the U-12 and U-14 divisions.
“The moving process kind of slowed my tennis down,” he said. “That’s why my ranking dropped a little.”
Harxhi plans to make his high school tennis debut in the upcoming Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference senior and ranked championships, May 21 at Cedar Springs in Burlington.
He says the psychological aspect is similar between tennis and badminton. While at Garrison Road Public School in Fort Erie, he placed third at the Niagara District school board badminton championships for students in grades 7 and 8.
“I’m happy with my performance today,” Harxhi said. My decision-making in badminton is pretty good. I know when to hit a smash or a drop shot. And my footwork is pretty fast.”
Brebeuf senior team coach and adviser coach Jeff McCrady was impressed with Harxhi. “He’s just a natural play. He’s done exceptionally well. It’s extraordinary that a Grade 9 wins male singles. It’s one of the harder categories.”
The 2014 HWCAA junior badminton championships attracted a field of 209 players in a double elimination tournament.
In girls’ singles, the title – for a second straight year — went to Athena Montecillo of St. Thomas More. She defeated Paige Burke of Bishop Tonnos, 2-0. “For all of my games I was able to hit it away from my opponent like my coach tells me to,” Montecillo said.
The girls’ doubles crown went to Cardinal Newman’s Audra Marino and Daniela Grilli, who downed Cathedral’s Rebekah Hest and Anna-Maria Massiah, 2-1.
Brebeuf took top honours in boys’ doubles when Aiden MacIsaac and David Lacharity edged Newman’s Nicholas Petermann and Matt Persia, 2-0.
In mixed doubles, Tyrell Hebert and Stephanie Cordero of Newman got past Brebeuf’s Lhexen Rabit and Tephenie Ong, 2-0.
The mixed doubles division saw Newman’s 6-foot-5 Hebert, playing with his much shorter partner, Cordero. Both are in Grade 10.
“Since he’s taller than me,” Cordero said, “we decided to play front and back. It was fun playing with him. He’s a (provincial level) baseball pitcher, so he has a good left arm.”
McCrady said the winning boys’ doubles pairing from Brebeuf did an amazing job of battling back in the draw after losing one of its matches. The score in that final was 21-18, 22-20.
McCrady also pointed out that much of the Brebeuf success this season is due to the efforts of junior head coach Daniel Piccone.
Cardinal Newman earned the most points and was declared the team champion.