East Valley and Scottsdale badminton players littered the medal stands at the 2019 AIA Badminton Doubles Division 1 and 2 State Championships on Saturday at Independence High School.
No. 1 Mesquite senior Alyssa Dong and junior Sabrina Farias were the first to celebrate a title in the Division 2 doubles championship. They lost just one game in five matches, and capped the tournament off with a 21-13, 21-19 win over Saguaro’s Nancy Cryan and Israa Kingwaba in the final.
After rolling through the first game for an easy 21-13 victory, the Wildcat duo went up 19-18 in the second, needing two more points to claim victory. With a chance to reach match point, Saguaro hit a shot that nicked the top of the net, and barely flopped over to tie the game at 19-19. However, the Mesquite players simply shot each other a knowing look, and went on to win the next two points to secure the championship.
“It wasn’t so much about what we said, but more knowing in our heads that we could still finish it, and we still had a chance to win,” said Dong.
The championship feels even sweeter after coming in fourth place in this same tournament last season.
“It wasn’t so much redemption as we knew we could do better. We’ve been playing together for the last two years, and I just felt like this was our time,” Farias said.
Perry coach Lerina Johnson faced a unique predicament in the Division 1 doubles title match. Unseeded senior duo Sophie Jex and Megan Dye made a surprising run to the final, beating several ranked teams along the way. They faced No. 1 defending champions sophomore Nikhita Jayaraj and junior Ashley Rodarte, who are also Pumas.
Johnson’s coaching staff joked that they should flip a coin to see who they should coach in the match.
“I was expecting something really close, more so because these two (Jayaraj and Rodarte) were defending the title, and these two (Jex and Dye) had nothing to lose, and were riding that winning wave, and we know anything can happen at this point. I was proud, as a coach, to see all of them be able to battle to the best of their ability,” Johnson said.
Jex and Dye took the first game 21-14, as it seemed the defending champions were nervous to play against teammates. However, Jayaraj and Rodarte won a close second game, and cruised to an easy third to win the match 21-14, 21-19, 21-11.
Jayaraj said it was “definitely weird” to play against teammates in such a crucial match, but said the win feels just as good.
“Winning it once means a lot, but winning it again just means so much to me,” she said.
“there was pressure being No. 1 because people were coming after us, so it was definitely a little harder, but we were ready for it,” added Rodarte.
As just a sophomore and junior, the pair are eligible to play together again next season. They will enjoy the championship for a few days, but are looking to do it again in 2020.
“We’re mainly thinking about celebrating this one. But, we’re also thinking about the other talented teams in the tournament, and next year we’re going to have to play really well to be able to do it again,” said Rodarte.
No. 1 Hamilton sophomore Rujuta Sane did not lose a single game en route to the Division 1 state final, where she faced No. 3 senior Eileen Li from Corona del Sol.
The two were some of the smaller players in the whole competition. Nearly every point was a long rally, as neither were able to overpower the other. They both hit several well-placed, finesse shots to angles that made winning hits difficult.
“That’s just my style, and from what I’d seen, she’s not a power player either, so both of us just use a lot of drops and not as powerful shots, but that’s just the style of how we did it,” Sane said.
“It’s fun but it’s also stressful during the points, because so many of them went long and there’s so much pressure on each one.”
But, Sane did enough to control the match. A Li shot flew long on the final point, and Sane celebrated the title with a 21-18, 21-16 win.
Sane hugged family, friends, teammates and coaches after the victory, but had trouble putting her happiness into words.
“It’s a lot to process,” she said, smiling. “I’m just really glad to be here.”
Other top finishers
D1 singles, second place: Eileen Li – Corona del Sol
D1 singles, third place: Halle Swinney – Desert Ridge
D1 doubles, third place: Emi Pham / Midori Pham – Chaparral
D2 singles, third place: Payton Foti – Mesquite
D2 doubles, second place: Nancy Cryan / Israa Kingwaba – Saguaro
D2 doubles, third place: Kaitlyn Woods / Tori Pepe – Horizon
D2 doubles, fourth place: Maya Gibbs / Jaclyn Whaley – Campo Verde