Burnsville coach Jeff Limke is looking for his badminton program to regain prominence around the metro ranks.
The Blaze is coming off a third-place finish in the state tournament a year ago. It is ranked No. 5 among the 18 schools that participate in the sport.
“We had a good year last season,” Limke said. “We hope to build off that this year.”
Limke has a good starting point from which to work. He welcomes back his top singles player, senior Raven Klein, and top doubles team of seniors Katherine Connelly and Britta Riggs.
“When I first started I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into,” Klein said. She started playing the sport her sophomore year. “People don’t understand how hard the sport can be when you’re playing better competition.”
The sport is starting to serve a cross-training outlet for other sports. Klein also plays volleyball while Riggs plays soccer. Klein will play volleyball in college at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
“The kids don’t have time to be kids any more,” Limke said. “They don’t do cross-training with other sports, and this is the perfect sport to cross-train. It’s a great cardio workout if you want to get one.
“The crossover between volleyball and badminton is unique. The two sports complement each other.”
The Blaze opened the season with a 7-0 victory over Minneapolis Roosevelt behind its crossover athletes. The team travels to Hmong Academy on Wednesday for their second match of the season.
“Last year was one of the most fun seasons we’ve had,” Limke said. “We were down for a few seasons prior to last year.”
Limke, in his 14th season at the helm of the Blaze, has seen his numbers stay pretty consistent throughout the years. He has 43 kids out for the program this season in grades 10 through 12. He is usually between 40 to 45 participants.
“It’s a very popular sport in physical education,” Limke said. “So many kids want to play it, but nobody wants to start the sport up. It’s kind of confusing.”
That popularity has Limke thinking more schools should be participating in the sport these days. Outside of schools in the St. Paul and Minneapolis City conferences, just four other schools — Burnsville, Eden Prairie, Edina and Hmong Academy — offer badminton.
“It’s hard to understand why other schools haven’t added it as a sport,” Limke said. “It’s very competitive.”
Plus, all the other spring sports are outdoors. With a winter like this one, it only makes sense to offer an indoor sport.
“Also, you are using a facility that isn’t being used at that time of year by any other sport,” Limke said. “The schools that have badminton really enjoy it. It’s like pulling teeth to get other schools to come in.”
Klein still believes it has to do with “people think it’s a backyard sport, something you do at a picnic. I think it’s a hidden treasure. Once people try it, they love it. It’s really fun playing against somebody better.”
The Blaze will get its first taste of that when it hosts St. Paul Harding on April 11. The St. Paul City Conference has been dominating the state tournament in recent history. Limke hopes to see his squad in the mix with those schools at the end of the season.
“It all comes down to how you are playing at the end of the year,” he said. “Getting to the final four is our goal.”