By Joe McHugh
Pasadena Weekly Staff Writer
The Arcadia High School badminton program defeated the eight-time defending champions, Diamond Bar High School, 13-8 in the CIF Open Division championship.
This marks the Apaches’ first CIF championship.
Diamond Bar and Arcadia have been the top competition in the open division since it was applied to badminton in 2018. In 2018 and 2019, Arcadia was the runner-up, and was on track to be in the championship again, but the pandemic canceled the season.
Once the 2021 season rolled around, the Apaches took off, and secured the top seed in the CIF Open Division tournament. From there, they made their way to a championship with a 17-4 win over Rowland High School, and then onto Diamond Bar for the overall team victory.
“It felt nice to win the championship,” said Arcadia head coach Mike Stiles. “There was a feeling more of relief that we finally slayed the dragon.”
Stiles was the key factor in putting Arcadia Apaches on the map for badminton. A former CIF champion and a club level player in college, Stiles was the president of the athletic booster club when he caught wind of the rising student interest in badminton. He and fellow supporters petitioned the administration, and they were granted a team.
During the cancellation of the 2020 season, the team was uncertain as to how it would move forward. Stiles felt the 2020 team was primed to win if the season had happened.
With the cancellation came graduation and the loss of key players. But with new recruits and returning players, the team was still set for success.
“Frankly, we thought last year was going to be our year,” Stiles said. “But we came back really strong. We brought in new freshmen, this year’s sophomore class really improved over the time and the kids now have their bragging rights.”
One of the instrumental players in this road to bragging rights is spearheaded by senior captain, Melody Yang.
A four-year player for the Apaches, Yang was a star from the start. She was the first female player to win a league title for the Apaches. But in true captain form, she diverted her attention from singles competition to help the Apaches in doubles. During the 2021 season, Yang missed the beginning for COVID-19 safety concerns, but returned to lead the team to the championship.
“When she returned to the fold that was the final piece that brought us all together,” Stiles said. “I think that she was the glue that kind of keeps everyone together.”
But Stiles stressed this was a true team effort, mentioning the importance of players such as Andrea Lou, Kathy Liu, Pauline Tong, Reanne Chan, Emmery Chang, Matthew Li, Andrew Wu, Arnold He, Angelina Chai and Ethan Chin.
“We are a cohesive unit,” Stiles said. “I would argue that we are more team, than any other badminton team in CIF, or any other badminton program in in California.”
Looking forward, the Apaches will be losing seniors to graduation, including Yang, He and Chin, but the team will be almost the same pushing forward into the 2022 season, and is hunting for its second straight CIF title.
“Next year, we expect to be exactly where we were this year. We are going to be playing for a title, if everything goes right, and we should be winning the title again.” Stiles said.