Makayla Donahoo was not supposed to be on the badminton court, especially with her heading to college on a Division I softball scholarship at Weber State.
At the start of the summer, the Mesa native had no intention of adding anything to her already busy schedule.
Playing travel softball for the Arizona Suncats, the rising senior had her eyes set on the fall being dedicated to her club commitments and preparing for the spring season at Red Mountain High School.
That was until the first-year badminton coach Jake Kober asked her if she would come out for the team’s summer camp.
Kober, the assistant on the Red Mountain softball staff, took up badminton duties and was in need of players. He knew that, in order to fill a team, he would need players who are athletes, not just people who knew how to play the sport. And, with only five players returning from the previous season, he took a flyer on one of the most dependable athletes he knew.
“I offered for her to be on the badminton poster since she was going to be a senior,” Kober said, laughing after an early September practice. “When she said yes to that, I knew she wouldn’t back out of joining the team.”
Donahoo saw it less as a favor for a coach, than an opportunity.
“To be honest with you, it's my senior year, so I thought I would try something new,” she said. “It was a little bit of a push and a pull, but I came out to their summer camp and I have a ton of fun just out there playing and practicing so I thought I would give it a shot.”
After summer camp, Donahoo found herself having fun and succeeding in her first go-around with the sport. That, and playing with fellow softball player-turned badminton player, Brooklyn Urlich, made the transition from sport to sport that much easier.
Ulrich, a junior, has been by Donahoo’s side for the last four softball seasons at the varsity and travel team levels.
The comfort of playing as a pair has been evident on the court, too. Having run together as the Lions’ No. 1 doubles duo in five of their nine times together — the most of any pair — it shows the confidence Kober and assistant coach Jackie Kennedy have in them.
Kober calls them “bulldogs” for their raw ability and personal tenacity. Kennedy cites Donahoo’s ability to communicate, regardless of who she is playing with. That makes meetings during timeouts easy from a coaching side.
“When I come over and talk to them, I just want to like give them some positivity,” she said. “They know what they want to do. I don't have to say anything. That's just the type of competitors they are.”
While a 2-7 record as a pair in doubles rounds is not the cleanest of marks, they have shown that they can compete. In their losses, five times have they kept the score within five points, revealing how easily matches could have come down to a few whiffed birdies.
Even with close losses, Kober is willing to take the results if he can have someone like Donahoo on his team because he wants to build a program.
“They are doing everything we asked of them at the beginning of the season,” he said. “But when you are in these tight games, you just want to win the damn thing.”
Players of high character and work ethic, like Donahoo, help create an environment that, in due time, will begin to turn into a history of winning.
From the softball side of things, the Lions’ accomplishments are unrivaled in the state. In Donahoo’s three years on the diamond, they have compiled a 66-20 record with three regional championships to their name.
As of August, he was just trying to get enough kids to come out. Now, Kober is going to try and turn Red Mountain “from a softball school, to a badminton school.”
Simon Williams is a sports journalism student at Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism covering Red Mountain High School athletics.