By Samantha Thompson

Serge Blanchet grew up viewing badminton the way people in the United States view baseball—it is the sport. But upon arriving in California five years ago from his native Switzerland, Blanchet found no outlet for his game.

“I came to Fresno, of all places,” Blanchet said. “There was no place to play.”

Blanchet became the assistant coach of his high school’s girl’s badminton team, as they had no men’s side.

Now Blanchet is the top collegiate player in the country.

Upon arriving at UC Santa Cruz last year, Blanchet joined the badminton club in its first year as an official club team. It didn’t take him long to make his mark. Blanchet won the singles title in last year’s regional tournament, but due to a lack of funding, the university could not afford to send him to the national tournament in Connecticut.

By a stroke of luck, Blanchet was able to find a ride from some friends who were headed back east and was thus able to compete in – and win – the singles portion of the tournament.

Now the captain of the UCSC badminton team, Blanchet leads practices with drills he learned from his training in Switzerland and is helping prepare the team for this year’s regional and national competitions.

“Serge is really gunning for us to get there,” freshman Renald Tamse said. “He’s the No.1 defending national singles champion, so just having him on the team really boosts our confidence.”

Members of the team believe that with Blanchet at the helm, they stand a chance in this year’s tournament, which is being held in Berkeley, making the trip more feasible and enabling the entire team to attend.

Jessie Potenciano and Florence Wang, both of whom played in high school, established the badminton club in 2003. The club became an official team last year once enough male and female members were established and funds were raised through the OPERS department. The team receives $500 a year as a tier two club.

But this isn’t any backyard badminton game. Competitive indoor badminton is a fast-paced, physical game (the fastest recorded shot sent the shuttlecock flying over 200 miles per hour).

“You can get a big purple mark on the forehead,” Blanchet said. “You don’t want that to happen to you, that hurts.”

The team competes in the Northern California Intercollegiate Badminton League against other area schools including UC Davis, Cal, Stanford and San Jose State.

Fourth-year and club president Tran Nguyen thinks this year’s team will be competitive.

“We’re the youngest in the league right now, but we have potential,” Nguyen said. “We have a lot of strong freshmen and sophomores.”

The badminton team has had its popularity grow every year and saw its biggest influx of freshmen this year. And with Blanchet leading the way, the team has an opportunity to put themselves on the map this season.

Blanchet hopes to see more people coming out to play the fastest racket sport in the world.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover. If you don’t know the sport and just kind of heard rumors, then don’t underestimate the sport,” Blanchet said. “Just do it.”