The suspense had to wait a day longer than expected, but was well worth it for Chemainus’ Claudia McLean and her playing partner Clara Sabina of Nanoose Bay in the national women’s doubles pickleball championships in Kelowna.
Starting out with a big draw of 17 teams, the dynamic duo made its way through undefeated in five matches to the final for the gold medal against Kelowna couple Chantal Plamondon and Jae Nicholls.
After each of the previous five matches went the distance of three games each and the final was all even at 1-1, the teams had to wait to finish it the following day due to a rain delay.
So it was a winner-take-all one-game battle after 17 games crammed into the previous day.
“We were there from seven in the morning and play started at eight,” noted McLean. “We played continuously all day.”
It surely would have been a disappointment to fall one game short, but that never entered their minds and they got the job done when play resumed.
They may not have been the favourites in the final due to the presence of the pro-Kelowna crowd, but they didn’t mind.
“The atmosphere was great,” noted McLean.
After dropping the opening game 11-6, McLean and Sabina completed the comeback with 11-3 and 11-6 victories in the last two games.
It was obviously a great feeling for them to reach the pinnacle at the 4.0 level.
“It’s a nice level,” said McLean. “If I go to 4.5, it’s going to be up there.”
Players are usually required to move up after national supremacy so that’s likely the case for next year.
McLean played ladies’ doubles at the nationals last year as well with Lissy Rauber of Black Creek, also at Kelowna, while teaming up with partner Ken Holman in mixed doubles. Holman and Barrie Hill of Victoria played men’s doubles, but none of the combinations clicked for medals in their categories.
McLean and Sabina found a chemistry that worked wonders on the court.
“She’s a wonderful partner,” said McLean. “She’s a former Cuban table tennis coach and she’s just started a year or two playing pickleball and we meshed well together.”
McLean, who grew up in Victoria, has a background in tennis, table tennis and badminton – the three elements where any of that experience all comes in handy for players in pickleball.
“Ken and I played a lot of them together, also,” she pointed out. “It was part of my background. All the sports are all part of it.”
Pickleball has become the ideal sport for so many with backgrounds in any or all three of the racquet sports and Holman is the president of the Vancouver Island Pickleball Association.
The relationship between aging and any activity is always a concern, but that’s what’s making pickleball such a great alternative.
“Tennis you start to get injured,” reasoned McLean. “It’s (pickleball) less intrusive on the body.”
Ken noted there’s more than three million pickleball players in the United States.
“It’s really only been the last five years it’s taken off,” he pointed out.
Five years ago is when Holman and McLean discovered pickleball in Arizona “where they had courts within our facility where we’re staying,” McLean said.
“Pickleball is for anybody and more young people are coming into it.”
Most pickleball matches end quickly and Holman, as a frequent tournament director, puts aside about 20 minutes per match but that’s on the basis of two games. And then there’s the unknown factor when a marathon match can occur.
“The scoring in pickleball is unusual in that you can only win a point on your own serve,” Holman explained. “You could go an hour and not score any points.”
The Island championships for pickleball are Aug. 11-12 in Lake Cowichan and the popular Fuller Lake courts will be the site of a second 90-minute tournament on Aug. 26.
That would be a great time for spectators to check out this rapidly-growing game. And who knows if there might be another national champion in our midst like McLean.