Teammates on one court are now joined on another.
For St. John the Baptist’s Katie Maguire and Amanda Watson, both 15, the transition from basketball to badminton has been a quick rise to the top.
The pair — reserve guards on the basketball team — guided St. John the Baptist girls badminton to a CHSAA co-conference championship crown (with Our Lady of Mercy) on Monday.
Watson — who started playing basketball at the age of seven with her father, James — also played soccer and softball, before deciding to find a new sport to feed her competitive nature.
“I just started playing badminton this year during gym class in the winter during basketball season,” Watson said. “I picked badminton to see what it was like and I started to really enjoy it.”
“Badminton just really interests me personally, so I just came on for myself, really,” she added. “The fact that Katie was there, I knew someone I could also learn from someone. And she’s a very good badminton and basketball player, too.”
James surprised his daughter with a badminton racket and net for the backyard one day in late March.
“He would hit shots low and high and that would prepare me for tryouts,” she said. “I had no idea what racket to get.”
Despite being unsure of a racket selection, Watson went undefeated at 12-0 at third singles to end her rookie campaign.
For Maguire, badminton was a family tie. Watching her cousin, Dorothy Gaffney, playing badminton in middle school inspired her to start the sport last year.
“It seemed like she was having a lot of fun with it,” Maguire said. “When I was looking at high schools, I found that there was a badminton program at St. John’s and decided to go there.”
Every other day at tryouts, new players started at the bottom, facing every player in a singles match. The winner moves up one ranking, a loss drops them down.
“I actually pushed her through challenges last year and she rose from number 20 up to number one in about a week.” coach Len Krebs said.
“We did the same thing with Amanda,” Krebs added. “We said we are going to challenge you for the position and we think you have the ability.” She got up to third and that was about the time the regular-season matches started.”
Last year, Maguire played first singles for 11 of 12 matches with a record of 8-3. The CHSAA player of the year went 9-3. This season, Maguire finished at 11-1.
Krebs said Maguire and Watson are very athletic and light on their feet, similar to basketball.
“They’re always aggressive and they don’t give up,” Krebs said. “Sometimes the girls get tired and they say “why am I pushing so hard?” They’re very into it when they’re playing basketball, they’re very motivated. I believe that a lot of it has rubbed off on the team because they are all starting to do similar things.”
As for challenges, both have experienced growing pains and improvement.
“Last year, I went into it and was hitting too hard and my shoulder began to hurt,” Maguire said. “I iced my shoulder when I got home after the matches. Before this year, I strengthened it more by doing better stretches before the season started.”
“I was a little nervous because I never played the sport before, but it’s like other sports where you become used to it,” Maguire added.
Watson said she was excited to face other CHSAA teams and her opponents who have been “outstanding” teaching her various skills while playing against one another.
“I was nervous at the beginning because I didn’t know if the team was very good.” Watson said. “Knowing I had to start at the bottom and work my way to the top, I had to really work hard. I’m an athlete and I know that if I tried my hardest I can be one of the top girls there since I’m competitive. My coaches told me “if you keep going you will rise to the top. ’ ”