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.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Xavier badminton team has new look in 2021

 Two primary dynamics have entered the picture for the Xavier Prep badminton team in the fall of 2021.

First, there are two new coaches. Brian McNerney is the head coach and Sr. Kathleen Sinclair is the assistant. McNerney was the assistant for Laura Forbes a season ago, and he steps in after Forbes retired. He is a member of the faculty (chemistry) and Sinclair is Xavier’s assistant director of admissions.

Second, there is the team itself. The Gators will have six new players on the varsity roster, due to the fact that the six main players from last season all graduated. Most of the new players played for the junior varsity last season, and a few played briefly in varsity matches.

The team’s top players are expected to be junior Gigi Riviere and seniors Jasmine Leyva and Sophia Bonilla. All will play singles and doubles.

Junior Gigi Riviere is expected to be one of the leaders of Xavier's badminton team this season. (Photos by Don Ketchum).

The team had its first full workout on Monday (Aug. 16) and will scrimmage at Phoenix Sunnyslope on Thursday (Aug. 18). The Gators will play in the Flying Feathers invitational tournament at Gilbert Highland on Aug. 27 and 28, and then play their first one-on-one match on Aug. 31 against Mesa Mountain View, which will be XCP’s home opener in the Activity Center.

In the first full practice, McNerney wanted his players to concentrate on footwork and conditioning.

“I think the biggest misnomer about badminton is that it is not a sport, and people also assume it is a non-athletic sport,’’ McNerney said. “Some players might not like it, but you need to have conditioning, because most teams (opponents) are goiong to try to exhaust you.’’

He pointed to a player who was at Chandler Hamilton a few years ago who was a cross-country runner, and in his view how much of a difference that made in her badminton game.

Other aspects that need attention are keeping the rackets up as much as possible while in a defensive position and concentrating on getting serves over the net.

“If you drop your racket (lower) it can be harder to raise it back up (in time to make a play),’’ McNerney said. “And you’ve got to make sure those serves get over. Last year, we gave up too many cheap points.’’

Riviere has some good athleticism. In addition to her badminton experience, she was a key part of Xavier’s drive to the club lacrosse state championship game earlier this spring. She relied on her quickness to get her in and out of traffic and set up teammates or shoot the ball herself. Riviere’s sister, Sophie, played badminton last year before graduating and now is in college in Michigan.

“I’m excited about this season,’’ Gigi said. “I really like all the girls on this team. All of us have . here in badminton. And I need to keep working on my footwork.’’

Leyva admits that she gets a little nervous once in awhile, “but it helps that this is a team sport and that it’s not all on you. You have your teammates to back you up. All the games (in the match) matter equally.

“All of us are adapting. We are in high spirits. We want to get the program back to championship possibilities.’’

All the uncertainty around the Covid virus affected athletes last year, and Leyva said that the team knows how to better deal with it this time around.

If McNerney needs a voice among the players to step in as a leader, it likely would be Bonilla. She helped demonstrate various elements during the first full practice, speaking in a loud, clear voice.

Senior Sophie Bonilla is a vocal player on whom the coaches will rely.

“I think I probably am the most vocal,’’ Bonilla said. “I want to help all of us connect. But I don’t want them (teammates) to think I’m pushing anything on them, telling them what to do. I just want to show them examples.

“You obviously want to win, but it’s not completely about that. You have to learn the game better to get to step up to that next level. We know we are not going to be perfect. We just have to continue to work hard.’’

Xavier Prep badminton 2021

Varsity roster

(Subject to change)

Gigi Riviere, Jr.; Jasmine Leyva, Sr.; Sophia Bonilla, Sr.; Riley Dowdall, Jr.; Caroline Cobb, Sr.,; Dani Rivera, Sr.

Junior-varsity roster

Kasia Smigielski, So.; Lila Williams, So.; Lexi Garman, Jr.; Sarah Castlen, Jr.; Maggie Henry, Fr.; Corinne Ladna, Fr.

Additional key players

Carmela Wilson, Fr.; Ava Hilsabeck, Jr.; Sienna Janasek, Fr.; Jacquie Vogel, Fr.; Marlee McCloskey, So.; Reagan Perez, Fr.

2021 schedule

(Subject to change)

Aug. 27-28 – Flying Feathers tournament @ Gilbert Highland. Aug. 31 -- Mesa Mountain View @ XCP, 4 p.m.

Sept. 2 -- @ Glendale Mountain Ridge, 4 p.m.; Sept. 7 -- @ Mesa High, 4 p.m.; Sept. 9 -- @ Phoenix Mountain Pointe (Ahwatukee), 4 p.m.; Sept. 14 – Scottsdale Chaparral @ XCP, 4 p.m.; Sept. 16 – Phoenix Desert Vista @ XCP, 4 p.m.; Sept. 23 – Gilbert Perry @ XCP, 4 p.m.; Sept. 29 -- @ Mesa Skyline, 4 p.m.; Sept. 30 – Chandler Hamilton @ XCP, 4 p.m.;

Oct. 6 -- @ Phoenix Sunnyslope, 4 p.m.; Oct. 7 -- @ Peoria Liberty, 4 p.m.; Oct. 12 – Tempe Corona del Sol @ XCP, 4 p.m.; Oct. 13 – Chandler Basha @ XCP, 4 p.m.; Oct. 14 -- @ Chandler High, 4 p.m.

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