By Michael J. Lewis
The curious teenagers wander into the gym all throughout the spring at Great Neck South High school, their interest piqued by the sight of shuttlecocks soaring through the air and excited screams emanating from their classmates who hit them.
GNS badminton coach Allison Gottfried said she has noticed an uptick in kids checking out her team in recent seasons, and that might be because the Rebels have become quite the powerhouse.
On May 25 GNS defeated Jericho, 5-2, to capture its second consecutive Nassau County title and advance to the Long Island championship June 1.
“We used to try to recruit tennis players (to our team), but more and more we have girls wandering in and saying “ooh that looks like fun, and what’s that about?” Gottfried said. “We’ve developed a lot of interest and attracted kids that become really dedicated to the sport.”
The success of Great Neck South can be contributed to many factors, including the town having a middle-school feeder program, and this year had enough students wanting to play that there was a JV badminton team at the school.
Additionally, sophomore Kayla Wu, who plays No.1 singles, trains at her family’s badminton center in Queens, with several of her teammates joining her there.
“My father played at an extremely high level, and my mother, too, and I’ve just loved being around it,” Wu said. “We have a lot of players come and train and hang out there, and the competition and the friendship is so great.”
Senior Nicole Yim, who plays first doubles with partner Berniece Wong, said the friendships on the team make all the practice worth it, and that badminton is harder than it looks when you’re fooling around with a set in your backyard over the summer.
“You have to have great reflexes, and footwork, and learn how to hold the racket properly,” Yim said. “It’s a lot of training but when you’re with teammates that you really like, it’s always fun.”
The Rebels shut out Syosset, 7-0 in the semifinals, and playing Jericho in the title game, the score was 3-2 with two matches still going on, so there was some tension. But once first and fourth doubles won their matches within minutes of each other, the celebration was on.
“I definitely thought there was a good chance (to repeat as champs), but we always talk about how anything can happen,” Gottfried said. “But our team really played strong when the match was close, and I’m so proud of them.”