Sean Cameron had his mind made up heading into the weekend that he wasn't going to be denied.
With former champs Anniss Seid and Peter Russell opting not to compete this time around, the door was wide open and Cameron took full advantage—showing off some fantastic skills in sweeping fellow Thunder Bay player Bob Shine 3-0 on Sunday afternoon to claim the 'A' Open final of the Sunset Country Squash Club's 32nd-annual La Place Rendez-Vous Open.
Cameron knew he would be in tough against Shine, who is an 11-time winner at the tourney and generally has had his number in past meetings.
“The mindset heading into the weekend was that I was pretty open to anything,” Cameron said after Sunday's final.
"I've been playing a lot of squash in the fall but took a little bit of a break around Christmas, [which] probably helped out and took a little bit of the pressure off.
“Then going and playing against Bob, I mean Bob's beat me pretty much every other time we've played, so the strategy was just to kind of tire him out,” he noted.
“Stay on top of the ball and keep the strategy going throughout the match.”
Shine shredded the field in his earlier matches, earning 3-0 wins over Adam Clark (Sioux Lookout), Chad Faragher (Fort Frances), and an injured Jason Kabel (Fort Frances) and appeared to be “unsquashable.”
The only problem was the young, smooth, and upstart Cameron stood in his way in Sunday afternoon's final.
Cameron proved too much with his pinpoint accuracy, stretching Shine to his limit in many prolonged rallies before eventually prevailing to capture his first trophy.
“I think not getting down on myself, staying positive, and acknowledging when I needed to make changes, not getting mad at myself for making errors and that positivity helped a lot to push me through and keep pressure off myself,” Cameron cited as his keys to success over the weekend.
“The biggest challenge was probably my conditioning right now,” he conceded.
"I feel a bit out of shape after all of the Christmas parties over the Christmas break there.
“My biggest hurdle was my conditioning and staying focused and pushing through, even though I was tired,” Cameron said.
Third place in the division went to Clark.
With a full field of 65 players, it presented a tiny nightmare for booking draw times at this year's tourney. But it also showed squash is alive and well in Northwestern Ontario.
“It was the second-largest turnout we've ever had,” enthused tourney organizer Bob Tkachuk.
“But it's all we can handle actually because we have to play 11 matches locally on Thursday to make sure we weren't here past 4:35 p.m. on Sunday,” he noted.
“It turned out that it's a good problem to have in having too many players,” Tkachuk added.
"We're very happy, and the squash community in Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, [and] Fort Frances is alive and well and we're developing juniors.
“The tournament overall was a total success," he remarked. "We had one injury in the tournament and it's pretty well impossible not to have an injury at a squash tournament.”
Players hailed from Fort Frances, Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay, and Winnipeg. And this year, there were more hotly-contested 3-0 matches versus last year's abundance of five-game limits.
In men's 'A' division action, former Rainy River District resident Spencer Pearce proved to be too much for fellow Sioux Lookout player Gerson Agustin, winning the title with a 3-1 victory.
Rob Lawrence of Sioux Lookout finished third.
Eric Wetendorf (Kenora), an ex-Northwest Winter Games team member, proved too strong all over the court in defeating a very game Dale Cizmar (Thunder Bay) to snag the 'B' Open division crown.
James Gill (Thunder Bay) wound up third.
In 'B' action, local player Jeff Wright was dialed in and determined in sweeping fellow club player Dave Schwartz 3-0 in the final.
Fellow local Alex Bruyere captured third place with a well-deserved win over Adam Salomon (Thunder Bay).
The 'C' division, meanwhile, saw a rematch between Bob Tkachuk (Fort Frances) and Andreas Asmus (Sioux Lookout).
Asmus had edged Tkachuk 3-2 in an exhausting battle at Thunder Bay's Northwest Open back in November. But it was Tkachuk who had the last laugh this time around with a convincing 3-1 win.
Third place went to local junior Ryley Booth, who defeated Chris Bobczynski in a repeat of the Boxing Day tourney here.
The newly-formed 'D' division featured a round-robin format, with Scott Basaraba sweeping the field by defeating all challengers.
Jeff Campbell earned silver while Craig Bagacki took third.
On the ladies' side, 'B' action newcomer Amy Sheperdson (Sioux Lookout), with her powerful retrieving ability, swept the draw.
Long-time local rivals Mary-Beth Tkachuk and Nikki Bagacki tied with 10 points, but Tkachuk nabbed silver and Bagacki took bronze because of Tkachuk's head-to-head win.
In 'C' action, ex-junior Sara Coish proved to be strong in winning all her matches by 3-0 scores, with Heather Wright (Fort Frances) securing second and Sarah Bagacki (Fort Frances) placing third.
The junior 'A' Open was very competitive but Quinn Leschuk (Thunder Bay) proved supreme in winning the division, owning the 'T' in most of his matches.
Corbin Riches (Fort Frances) had a very good weekend in nabbing silver, with Ezra Koester (Thunder Bay) taking third.
The 'A' division was an all Fort contingent, with Zak Kellar cruising to first place by playing steady and confident.
Lane Booth nabbed second while Evan Strain was third.
The 'B' division consisted of Fort Frances, Thunder Bay, and Winnipeg juniors.
Local Evan Wright led the division with four wins while Hunter Jean (Fort Frances) captured silver and Benjamin Andrusco (Winnipeg) came in third.
“There was quite a noticeable progression of the juniors' play from Thursday to Sunday,” Tkachuk lauded.
“Many of them definitely having their best games ever to this point.”
Tkachuk also said organizers were very grateful for the support of sponsors, volunteers, and food donations, as well as player and parental support.
Up next for the local club is the combined Squash Cancer and Silver Fox tournament, which is slated for March 22-24 in Thunder Bay.