Heading into the 2012 season, Pom Brown and the Mountain Pointe badminton team had one school circled on its calendar: reigning state-champion Xavier.
The Gators bounced the Pride in the quarterfinals of last year’s team tournament en route to winning a third straight state title.
On Sept. 13, Brown and Co. partially settled the score with a convincing 9-0 victory over Xavier.
But Thursday night the Pride did one better, winning the state championship, 5-2, at Phoenix Sunnyslope High School for the seventh time in school history.
“When we won back in 2007, it was special because it was my first year,” Brown said. “But this one is even more special, because back then I wasn’t even sure I was the right coach for them. Now I’ve been able to coach these kids for many years. It’s been an absolute pleasure, and they’ve worked so hard to get here.”
During the state singles tournament last weekend, the Pride’s junior duo of Kiyoko Hashimoto and Vi Koka finished second and third, respectively. Five days later the two had their eyes on a different prize.
Mountain Pointe’s top two seeds set the pace with convincing two-set victories – Hashimoto won 11-2 and 11-3 while Koka won 11-1 and 11-5 - and the Pride never looked back as they put the final touches on a remarkable 18-0 season.
“Even though we fell short in the singles tournament, this made it all worth it,” said Koka. “Coming together like we did to achieve something we’ve been working towards the past few years, it was nice to end our season like this.”
Hashimoto, who was the runner-up to Chaparral’s Courtney Foltz, defeated her on-court rival in the first round of the team finals Monday and the rest of the way looked at ease taking charge when it mattered most.
“I was really ready for my match with (Foltz), and after I beat her I was just motivated to finish strong for my team,” said Hashimoto. “I understood that it wasn’t just me, I had to win for everybody else.”
Hashimoto and Koka may have been the stars of Mountain Pointe’s latest championship run, but everybody else had a hand in delivering the program’s first team title since '07.
The 2012 doubles champions – Sabrina Martinez and Geneva Heinkel – clinched the crown with a brilliantly-played two-set victory (13-0, 15-7). The senior Martinez found it extra special to go out on top over the Gators.
“I remember back in 2009 when my sister was on the team, Xavier beat Mountain Pointe for the title,” said Martinez. “I know how many times they’ve won it, and they always bring a big crowd. For me, I just wanted to quiet them finally. I’m glad we were able to do that. It’s our turn.”
While Nancy Meyer and her Xavier squad didn’t quite complete the four-peat, the team’s senior leaders – Carina Arellano and Meghan Crown – were still thrilled with how the season turned out.
“Nobody thought we’d be here, because outside of Carina it was all new blood,” Crown said of the Gators' lineup. “But we got here and it feels incredible.”
Arellano and Crown split their doubles match (4-15, 15-8) with Hashimoto and Koka before the Pride clinched the state championship. Although it won’t count on record because it wasn’t officially completed, Xavier’s top-seeded pair left the gym on a high note.
“It feels like we won, like we were redeemed from our first meeting this year,” said Arellano. “We also lost to their No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in the doubles final last week, so to go toe-to-toe with their best was incredible.
“The coaches at Xavier have always pushed us to be better players, and in doing so, we’ve definitely become a family.”