After Ester Htoo’s sophomore year at St. Paul Harding, things clicked when it came to badminton. The sport went from leisurely to serious.

Initially, badminton was merely “stress relief,” Htoo explained, just a way to blow off steam.

Then her mindset changed. Once her friend and last year’s state runner-up, Jumy Miko, explained how she had a real shot at becoming state champ, that was all the motivation she needed.

So she practiced harder and longer, taking the sport seriously for the first time.

Just as Miko envisioned, Htoo won the state badminton title over Edina’s Angel Liang in straight sets last month.

“Overwhelming,” said Htoo, a senior and the Star Tribune’s Metro Badminton Player of the Year. “My friends, all my teammates came to hug me. I was so overwhelmed with different emotions. I couldn’t believe I won.”

While Htoo’s high school playing days are over, that doesn’t mean she’s done with badminton. She already has plans for when she heads to Bethany Lutheran College.

“My college doesn’t have badminton,” Htoo said. “But me and my friend are planning on starting a club.”

SOUICHI TERADA