Stephen Kraynick paces up and down the wood floors of the auxiliary gymnasium at Desert Edge High School, moments before his girls’ badminton team’s home opener in its inaugural season.
“A little bit,” Kraynick chuckled.
The Desert Edge girls may have shared the sentiments of their head coach, wearing a 9-0 defeat to the Apollo Hawks on August 30.
While the season is still in its infancy, Kraynick and the girls are not holding themselves to any sort of expectations in the program’s first year. Instead, they’re taking a fun, high-spirited approach to playing the new sport.
“I told the girls, let’s just have fun and have no expectations. It’s a first year for us. Let’s just go out, have fun, enjoy it, and come and do things the Desert Edge way,” Kraynick said.
Desert Edge joins Verrado, Millennium and Agua Fria as the schools offering girls’ badminton in the Agua Fria High School District.
Badminton was in the works for a few years at Desert Edge. It fell through last fall, but the Scorpions officially introduced the sport for this school year.
Kraynick is the girls’ tennis coach and was asked to take over Desert Edge’s girls’ racquet sports heading into this year.
A former college tennis player, the school’s freshman and junior English teacher jumped at the opportunity to coach badminton.
That was also a way for him to recruit two of his top badminton players.
Senior Rachel Barnett and junior Philana Nguyen, both tennis players for Kraynick in the spring, decided to make the transition to badminton when they found out who was coaching. And, hey, why not? It’d be fun, they thought.
Despite losing in doubles together and dropping their individual matches, the No. 1 player Nguyen and No. 2 Barnett enjoyed the challenge.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Nguyen said post-game. “The style they play is really different (from tennis). I’d like to learn a lot from this match.”
Barnett acknowledged the chemistry she and Nguyen share in badminton, which will parlay into working as a doubles’ tandem this spring on the tennis court.
“We just need to talk more,” a soft-spoken Barnett said after the August 30 loss.
It’s expected that in the first year of a new athletics program, it might take a season or two to get the ball rolling in terms of the interest received from the student body. Instead, Kraynick has been pleasantly surprised with the schoolwide support.
“The support’s been very positive and in the community in general. We just had our big assembly, and the students loved what they saw, and our program is growing. Across campus, everyone’s been supporting, from administration to teachers to students. They’re really excited for this new venture.”
Kraynick is excited, too. His pacing up and down the gym floor was just a snapshot of his intentions of building a winning program and having a blast while doing it.
“At the end of the day, I think we’re going to have a successful season and enjoyable season, and I really do think that we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year,” he said.