DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Badminton aims to continue excellence

If the sheer numbers on the first day of tryouts is any indication, Xavier Prep badminton coaches have a lot to choose from when deciding who will be on the varsity and junior-varsity rosters for the fall of 2017. Teams should be announced by the middle of the coming week.

Head coach Susan Contreras and volunteer assistants Francis Hartojo and Sherry Yuan (new to the program this year) welcomed 42 athletes on Friday’s (Aug. 11) first day, with players shuttling between courts in the Activity Center and Vestar Hall.

The mid-afternoon workout had players “challenging’’ each other in matches. Players were encouraged to use as many types of shots and footwork as they felt comfortable using. Some of those shots were learned at open gym sessions a week ago.

The tryouts will continue on Monday (Aug. 14) and Tuesday (Aug. 15), with the final rosters announced on Tuesday night or Wednesday (Aug. 16).

“We have seen a few girls trying to use the proper footwork and working on those shots,’’ said Conteraras, who in her first season a year ago led the Gators to a 17-0 record and the seventh state championship in the school’s history.

It is difficult for players to stay sharp in the offseason because there is very little organized clubs and competitions. There is one club in Mesa, but that is about the extent of it.

“For many of the girls, this is their first experience (nine freshmen are trying out), but we also have some players coming back who were on the varsity and JV,’’ Contreras said.

“For some of the girls, their only experience is in PE (physical education class), but this is not just hitting back and forth like that. There is a lot more to it. It is quicker and there is a lot more movement involved.’’

The day will come when the players have to do a little more in terms of shots and strategy. And although some might not think so, conditioning also comes into play.

“There will be times later in the season when a (individual) match goes to a third set and they need all the energy they can get, particularly late in the season,’’ Contreras said.

The final list will have about two dozen names on it. Six will be the primary varsity players (both singles and doubles), with six more playing JV. There also will be 12 more players who will be involved in “exhibition’’ matches. Though there is not much turnover at the varsity level, there can be more movement in the JV and exhibition groups.

“It is important that all of the girls stay sharp because you never know what might happen,’’ Contreras said.

It is imperative that the girls keep playing, “because the more they play, the more fun they will have,’’ she said.

Xavier had a lot of home matches last season, but this will be reversed, with the schedule being top-heavy with road matches. Six of the team’s first seven matches are away, the first being Mesa Red Mountain on Aug. 23 at 4:30 p.m.

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