Kimberly Liu and Joanne Chen stood at center court in the gym at Clovis North High School — a net separating them, an airborne yellow birdie ricocheting off their rackets.
Liu and Chen — who have gone back and forth as No. 1 singles player on the Broncos’ badminton team this spring — were focused on getting in a good practice. Teammates surrounded them in their own singles and doubles practice games.
Badminton might be one of the lesser-known high school sports, but low profile doesn’t mean low intensity. Liu, a junior, and Chen, a senior, both broke a sweat — and then some — in their practice game.
“You need speed, accuracy and stamina,” Chen said. “The court may seem small, but if your opponent forces you to move around, you can get tired so easily.”
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Fast footwork also is important, said Liu, and she should know. She also competes on the Broncos’ soccer team in a sport that values expert footwork. Liu has had a passing acquaintance with several other sports: basketball, softball, volleyball, golf and tennis.
“I’ve tried almost everything, and I’ve found badminton to be a relaxed sport but also competitive,” she said.
Chen said playing badminton has added a new dimension to her life: “I feel it teaches a lot about sportsmanship and competitive nature, and I wasn’t too competitive when I started.” She has played all four years at Clovis North.
Sarah Jackson, one of the Broncos’ top doubles players, considers badminton the “chess of sports” because it works the mind in ways that other sports might not. “There’s a lot of math involved, and you have to calculate angles and speed,” she said.
Head coach John Jones said it’s wrong to believe that badminton is not competitive. “The girls that commit to the sport are very good athletes who are extremely skilled,” he said.
A player’s ability to place the birdie on her opponent’s back line is an important skill, he added: “Birdie placement and keeping your opponent moving are a must.” Jones teaches physical education at Granite Ridge Intermediate School.
In addition to Liu and Chen, Clovis North’s top single players are Brittany Rodriquez, Charmaigne Lopez, Ciana Thong and Allysa Melillo, according to Jones.
He said the top doubles teams are Jackson and her partner Joyce Guevara, Shahleen Narain and Estefania Martinez, and Nou Nou Mounaoutoua and Dakota Stephany.
The Clovis North team has some high-achieving student athletes.
Chen, for example, recently narrowed her college choices to New York University and the University of California, Irvine. She plans to study nursing and music performance. Jackson is choosing between Cornell University in the Ivy League and NYU. She plans to study neuroscience and wants to become a doctor.