WITH her comeback at the Canadian Racquetball Championship almost complete, Jennifer Saunders made a beauty of a shot, and powered herself into history.
That final point, notched against Montreal rival Frédérique Lambert, clinched Saunders an 11-9 win in the final tiebreaker game. With that, she claimed her eighth national singles title, and officially became the most winning woman in Canadian racquetball history.
On Sunday, waiting to board a plane home to Winnipeg from the championship in Brossard, a suburb of Montreal, Saunders reflected on the moment she made history.
"I looked to the back of the court, it was a packed crowd, and it's hard to put into words," said Saunders, who is also the executive director of Racquetball Manitoba. "It was elation."
All the more elating since, for a time, it looked like the victory wouldn't happen.
Usually, Saunders is the woman to beat in national competition, and came into the 2014 nationals as defending champion. But it was the top-ranked Lambert who was favoured to win, especially given she had beaten Saunders in their last two meetings.
In the final on Saturday, Saunders took the first game, 15-6. But she dropped the second 6-15, and fell into an early hole in the tiebreaker game. At one point, she was trailing Lambert 5-1. But Saunders rallied and came out with the win.
It was a gutsy performance, one that Saunders credited to the work she put in with a sports psychologist. "We talked a lot about enjoying the moment, and having a purposeful plan to everything I did," she said. "I was able to bring all of that together for the final."
So now, Saunders is officially on top of Canadian women's racquetball history. When she earned her seventh national title in 2013, she tied with Heather Stupp for the all-time record. Now, she has set her own. "It feels like a real honour," she said. "I feel that it means I've been consistent over a long period of time, but also able to stay at a high level for a long period of time."
Flash back to how it all began... Saunders was only 10 years old when she discovered racquetball, a sporty kid growing up in Thompson, Man. Her mother enrolled her in a learn-to-play clinic for the sport. The fact it was an individual sport instantly appealed. "I went down because I was the type of kid who would try any sport," she said. "That's where my opportunity began."
Saunders would go on to excel in the sport, and claimed her first Canadian national singles championship in 2002. If someone had told her then she would one day be the most winning Canadian woman of all time, would she have believed? "Definitely not," she laughed. "When I won the first one I thought I was pretty lucky.
Now, Saunders will represent Canada at the world championships, slated for Burlington, Ont. next month. It will be the first time Saunders has played an international event on Canadian soil. She will do it again next year, when the Pan Am Games kick off in Toronto. "It's a really exciting time in racquetball," she said. "It's fantastic."