Candice Wadding

Coach Candice Wadding and Morgan Rincon during badminton practice at Verrado High School. (West Valley View photo by Pablo Robles)

The consensus among the Verrado High School girls’ badminton team is there’s nobody better suited to build the program from the ground up than Candice Wadding.

Entering the program’s third season, Wadding, wants to win. In the program’s inaugural season, just eight girls cracked the varsity team. The following fall, the roster had 19 players. This season, nearly 40 girls tried out for the team.

Before taking on the role, Wadding served as the girls’ junior varsity soccer coach. She credits that position, as well as being a physical education teacher, to the booming badminton interest inside the halls of Verrado.

“I’m really lucky because I get to watch them evolve in their freshmen P.E. classes and see who’s like really good athletes and who picks up sports quickly,” Wadding said. “I really, really push for them to give me a chance and come out and try a new sport and push them out of their comfort zones.”

As expected, the program had a few bumps along the road while trying to establish itself as a fixture among Verrado athletics. The first being the most obvious: All eight girls the first season were seniors.

In consecutive seasons, Wadding was tasked with filling a roster from scratch. But now, she has certainly garnered interest around the school while boasting returning talent.

Two seniors, Paige Rincon and Erika Gomez, began playing because they were coached by Wadding their freshman year of soccer. Joining the badminton team served as a way to stay in shape for soccer and form a closer bond. They even managed to persuade a few of their varsity soccer teammates to join the badminton squad this year.

“Last year, Mrs. Wadding came up to me and said, ‘Come on, play badminton.’ Paige and Erika did it and said it was a lot of fun and then said, ‘Let’s all do it this year,’” said Emily Diab, a junior soccer player.

By word of mouth, badminton participation seemingly doubled overnight. Bound to be two of Verrado’s starting six players, Gomez and Rincon were instrumental in recruiting talent.

“I was telling everyone it was so fun. I guess word just got around. It’s fun,” Gomez reasoned.

Sure, everyone’s having fun. But competition can be even more fun when you’re on the winning end, which Wadding and the girls have set out to do this fall.

Her first period class is the badminton team, who practice and mesh as a team.

“We would, on late-start Wednesdays last year, practice from 7 in the morning to 10. (Wadding) would make us practice that whole time and that really, really helped us understand the game more and understand each other more. It definitely improved so much of knowing the game and everything,” Rincon said.

After consecutive 4-9 seasons, which was good enough to capture the Division II Phoenix section title, the Vipers kicked off their regular season August 28 against Moon Valley. The score was not available at press time.

For most of these girls, Wadding included, the transition from the team sports mentality to the one-on-one competition can be challenging. But through it all, one thing has remained the same: These girls are itching to contend, and they’re eager to see that competitive nature brought to light this fall.

“I’m so competitive, but I also remember they’re students and this is some of their senior years and I want them to enjoy what they’re doing. I don’t want it to be something that they don’t look forward to, whether they win or lose,” Wadding said.