It’s been a long year for sports like badminton, patiently waiting for approval to resume indoor activity and competition. Once indoor sports were cleared to resume last month, it created a mad dash to assemble teams, schedule gym time, and formulate a plan for the season. Some schools–namely Compton and Millikan–were unable to assemble a badminton squad for this season, which has been a common struggle across several other sports.
For the remaining five teams, this will be a unique season, with no team champion declared for the second consecutive year. Individual league champions are still expected to be crowned at league finals in early May, but the five dual matches played by each team will essentially serve as exhibitions. That decision was made during a meeting of the league’s coaches, who voted 3-2 in favor of removing the team championship from consideration this season.
Longtime Poly head coach Steve Meckna was a strong proponent of keeping a league championship in place, and was a vocal dissenter of the decision.
“What I think is hideously unfair and wrong is that these were the schools that coaches didn’t do their jobs, punishing kids who did what they were supposed to do,” Meckna stated. “Is it difficult? Yes. But it’s no more difficult for them than it is for us. Don’t deprive the kids who have been training and preparing because you didn’t do your job. That is just morally wrong.”
Other coaches disagreed, including Cabrillo head coach Tina Thanh Tran, who guided the Jaguars to back-to-back league titles in 2018-19. She felt like the circumstances surrounding the season did not support declaring a league champion.
“We’re having half a season and only playing five games. We just want the kids to come back, and right now it’s not appropriate to give a league title away,” Tran said. “We feel like not everyone is in the same circumstances to have a bunch of kids being able to compete. This year is different from any other year because we’ve never had anything like this before. If there were only three schools competing for a Moore League title, would you still want the championship title? You’re not playing everyone.”
Meckna lauded his players’ determination in preparing for the season, despite the uncertainty about whether it would take place. He oversaw regular practices via Zoom for much of the offseason, and noted his players’ unconventional means of practicing their craft.
“My kids have been doing footwork in their living room,” Meckna explained. “They’ve been hitting the shuttle against their garage door, sometimes I’ve seen kids practicing switch steps between their bed and their closet, or hitting the shuttle against the fireplace while their mom is doing laundry in the background. You do what you’ve gotta do.”
Poly should be a deep and balanced group this season, but have a few standouts on the roster, including the doubles team of Eugene Chao (pictured, right) and Nicholas Toch. The senior duo looked dominant last year before the season was cut short and are in good shape heading into this season. Junior Prongha Taluker is the most improved player in the program and could be a factor on the boys’ side this year. Meanwhile Karah Sek (pictured, left) is a strong player on the girls’ team who should make a big impact for the Jackrabbits.
At Cabrillo, their shot at a third consecutive Moore League title will have to wait another year, but Tran says her players are excited to be back, despite not being able to pursue a team championship.
“I did think about it from the kids’ point of view, and if I was in their shoes, if I got cleared and was able to get some practice time in, I would feel a little hurt,” said Tran of not having a title up for grabs. “Before I made the decision, I talked to my badminton kids, and they were ok with it. At the end of the day, we just want to play. We’re glad to be back in the gym.”
Four-year starter April Galima will be one of the top players on the girls’ side. She placed fourth in girls’ doubles as a 10th grader and has only improved since then. She will be a top singles and mixed doubles player for the Jags. She’ll be joined in mixed doubles by top boys’ player Neo Alcantara, who is also a four-year contributor. Tran expects seniors Kate Barrera and Mickaella Abaloyan to play key roles on the girls’ side, and says junior Jayden De Guzman is a rising star in the program.
Lakewood was co-champion with Cabrillo in 2018, and despite limited practice time as a group, head coach Michael Christensen has liked what he’s seen from his Lancers so far.
“Our effort really impressed me in our practice match last week vs. Cabrillo,” Christensen said. “We had our first practice that morning and I was so surprised at how hard our kids played. We will just do our best to improve before league individual finals and try to give them a positive experience.”
The Lancers will be led on the girls’ side by seniors Kathryn Villanueva and Sophie Vikram, who will both play singles and mixed doubles. Juniors Victoria Kaing and Samantha Ho will lead girls’ doubles and there will also be contributions from seniors Emily Merida and Teresa Do. The Lakewood boys have seniors Nathan Mohn and Brandon Lee as top singles players, while senior Derarath Run will partner with junior Brandon San to lead the doubles effort.
Wilson co-head coach Daniel Morales was working with his players for outdoor practices, but has taken full advantage of the gym time after it was recently approved.
The Bruins have a solid core of seniors, with Eddie Man and Dillon Ran the top players in boys’ doubles and mixed. The girls’ team will be led by seniors Emily Pan and Serena Sou, along with talented sophomore Maura Dark. Morales is excited about his team and feels they are in a good spot for such a unique season.
“I believe we are competition ready when compared to the other schools in our league participating this year,” said Morales. “I can confidently say that we have a full lineup of student-athletes eager to compete. They are all hungry for the season and have not let the circumstances cloud their vision to win.”