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Prep Notebook

Student from Germany tops at badminton

Back home in Germany, Wencke Hansen is a good badminton player. Very good.

Here, the exchange student at South Medford High is peerless.

Badminton is big time and potentially good-paying in Europe. Chasing shuttlecocks is a wintertime P.E. unit at best in most of America.

Hansen, 17, is a resident of Krefeld, a city of 250,000 on the Rhein River, north of Cologne, west of Essen and about 30 miles east of The Netherlands.

Hansen is considered a professional in Germany. Clubs, sponsored by business and government, scout for talent and develop athletes.

Krefeld's Sports Club Bayer Uerdingen is highly competitive in sports ranging from basketball to water polo. The membership is more than 5,000, with 300 of them in the badminton department.

Hansen began playing badminton eight years ago and was picked to play for SC Bayer Uerdingen's professional team at 15.

As is the case with many youngsters, Hansen took up badminton because a friend played.

It was, like, the best sport in the world, Hansen says.

After six years of training and playing, she showed more than recreational prowess.

They watch you in tournaments and look at your scores when they nominate you, she says. I never really felt that I was that good. I thought about all the people who could beat me.

As a professional, her shoes, shirts, shuttlecocks and rackets are provided. Her dues are $40 per year.

She had a hard time believing competitive badminton was nonexistent when she arrived in Medford.

She attempted to start a badminton club for her senior project. The enterprise never really caught on.

So she turned out for the fledgling water polo squad.

No one knew how to play, she says. It was really chaos, and fun.

She lettered for the South swim team during the winter. Still, she missed playing her game.

Then Jason Bauer, a science and physical education teacher at South, pointed her to Ashland, where between a dozen and 20 badminton players swing away on Friday evenings.

Michelle Marquis, a longtime local competitor, was pleasantly surprised when Hansen showed up for a session at Southern Oregon University.

She has an awesome smash, Marquis says. She's a very strong player and she's had excellent training. In Europe, you have to work your way up different levels. You just can't play at a certain level. You have to win tournaments. Here, you just play who turns up. We don't have any (Class) A players in our group, and she would be.

Hansen found the competition she sought earlier this month at the Northern California Junior Championships in San Francisco.

She placed second in the 18-and-under women's singles, while taking first in doubles and mixed doubles.

When I heard about the tournament, I had to start practicing, she says. I did a lot of running and a lot of footwork.

She played 13 matches in the tournament, losing in three games to Eva Lee of San Francisco in the singles finals.

Hansen teamed up with Jessica Allen of the Bay Area to win the doubles championship and with Tim Trinh of Fremont, Calif., for the mixed title.

They wanted to invite me to the junior nationals in Los Angeles, Hansen says. But you have to be in the United States for at least a year, and I've only been here for 10 months.

She does plan to play in the Corvallis Open on May 22.

Marquis is Hansen's senior project mentor and accompanied her to the tournament in the Bay Area. Marquis noted the teenager's exceptional agility.

For a tall, lean person, she moves very well, Marquis says. The gal she was playing doubles with was an inch or two taller. You could tell the awkwardness in her partner, but you couldn't tell any in Wencke.

During her stay, Hansen developed a liking for pumpkin and banana pies.

Any kind of fruit pies, she says.

Hansen says she's counting the days until she returns home July 11. She'll have plenty of stories to share with her family in Krefeld and a couple more badminton titles.

SCHEFFLER SIGNS -- Ashland senior Jordan Scheffler has signed a letter of intent to play water polo for Long Beach State University in California.

Scheffler was a first-team all-state selection and league MVP. She led the Grizzlies in goals scored and was among the league leaders in scoring.

Ashland was 19-3 last year, placing seventh in the state tournament.

She picked Long Beach so she could combine athletic interests with film studies.

Scheffler picked the 49ers over Hawaii, UC Santa Barbara, San Jose State and Loyola-Marymount. She turned down visits to Massachusetts and Villanova because she wanted to stay in the West.

TRIO HONORED -- Three Southern Oregon girls were among the 20 honored Saturday as recipients of the Willie Davenport Foundation Scholarships for female athletes with outstanding academic achievement.

Ali Mostue of North Medford, Crystal Tait of Cascade Christian and Jamie Brown of Hidden Valley were honored at the ceremony at the Joan Benoit Building on the Nike campus in Beaverton.

(Greg Stiles is a Mail Tribune sports writer. He can be reached at 776-4483.)