Perry badminton

Perry’s badminton program was pushed more than it has been all season long and in the last four years, but the Pumas prevailed to capture their fourth straight Division I title.

Perry badminton was pushed more than it has been all year but claimed its fourth consecutive AIA Badminton Division I Team Championship Thursday with a 5-2 victory over Sunnyslope.

Perry came in as the prohibitive favorite and No. 1 seed. Before the match, coach Lerina Johnson said the Vikings, winners of three of the past four Division 2 titles before moving up to D1 in 2020, would provide her team a unique test as one of the most talented and well-coached squads the Pumas had faced in years.

The Pumas started the final hot. Each of Perry’s six singles players won the first set. But, while the top three of senior Kate Macpherson, junior Nikhita Jayaraj and senior Ashley Rodarte all closed out their matches in victory, along with junior Kaylee Ross at No. 6 singles, Sunnyslope stole three-set victories at No. 4 and 5 singles. It was just enough to extend the match into doubles play, where the Pumas would need just one of three victories to secure the overall win.

“We would have liked to win it in singles, but Sunnyslope is a really good team so we kind of thought we’d have to go to doubles and win it for our team,” Rodarte said.

Sunnyslope’s No. 2 and 3 doubles teams won their first sets, scaring Perry more than any team had all postseason. But Rodarte and Jayaraj, who had won their third consecutive individual doubles state championship mere days earlier, held firm at No. 1. Rodarte’s serve on match point was returned directly into the net, and the duo’s 21-9, 21-14 victory led to the jubilation Perry badminton has become accustomed to.

“I’ll take my state champ team, no-one better to win it,” said Johnson.

With the victory, the Pumas capped off another undefeated season hoisting the championship trophy, going 13-0 in official AIA matches as a team and a combined 117-10 in individual matches in 2020. The three graduating seniors on Perry’s roster finished their careers without taking a team loss.

Moving forward, Perry will be tasked with replacing a group that has flourished for four years, a senior class Johnson said took the reigns as leaders this season and almost served as coaches on the court.

But for now, the Pumas are on top, celebrating yet another victory and dominant campaign.

“This was a really cool moment to win the last point for our team and win another championship, this is unreal,” Rodarte said.

In Division 2, Campo Verde came up short of its own undefeated season, losing 5-0 to Ironwood in the final.

The whole process, including team introductions, the National Anthem, warmups and finally match play, took just 39 minutes.

Each of Ironwood’s six singles players won their first sets. One-by-one, the Eagles closed out their matches with sweeps. Ironwood junior Diana Ramirez’s drop shot hit inbounds to finish her No. 5 singles match 21-14, 21-17, and the Eagles rushed the court celebrating their first team title.

“It was so relieving and such a great moment in my life. With everything that’s gone on with COVID and the season, to finish like this just makes it a little better,” Ramirez said.

Despite the loss, Campo Verde coach Rochelle Burson - who plans to retire from coaching - said 2020 was her most rewarding leading the Coyotes. Campo Verde had its best regular season in school history, going 12-0 and securing its first No. 1 playoff seed.

Settling for runner-up, Burson said, does not diminish what her girls accomplished in a ‘crazy’ season.

“This is just a very special year for us. I’m so proud of the way everybody came together and dealt with playing in the pandemic and still had so much success,” Burson said.

“At the beginning of the year we didn’t think we’d be at this point, so to even make it here is wonderful.”

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