This year’s team has posted a league record of 4-1 as it fights to repeat as CIF champions. Photo by Steve Whitmore

It’s uncommon for a high school sports program to win it all after only four years fielding a team, but that’s exactly what happened when South Pasadena High School (SPHS) introduced badminton.

The SPHS varsity badminton team in its fourth season of CIF competition was crowned Southern Division 1 champions last year. It was not an easy climb, though, because they had to beat a tough Cypress High School, 11-10. And they had been defeated by the same Cypress Team the year before. Last year’s victory was not only sweet because of it being a first but because it was against the team that bested them the year before.

“This team is incredible,” Luna said during an interview last year after the Tigers were crowned champions. “They play so hard and last year they lost to Cypress, so this is a vindication. They are just a great bunch of guys and gals.”

That was last year. What about this year? The repeat mantra is hanging over the heads of the players as well as the coaches. They are ready, they say, but they may be the victim of their own success. Last season, the Tigers played in Division 1 but with their success, there is the chance they will be moved up to the Open Division, a much tougher group of schools.

Christopher Liu

“It might definitely be harder to repeat depending on which CIF Division we make,” head coach Edwin Luong said in an email to The Review. “If we make Open Division, which is the highest and toughest division, it will be much harder to repeat. But if we make Division I, we have a better chance of winning another championship.”

Luong also said that the team this year is facing a challenge of finding the right pairings for doubles play.

“Some of our struggles this season has been figuring out solid doubles pairings, especially with the boys and girls doubles, Luong said. “Since we added some new players, we had to change up the lineup for doubles from last year. As a result, we had to figure out the chemistry and create doubles pairs that worked well together. Our doubles teams this year have been completely different from last year’s pairs.” Badminton is the only CIF co-ed sport, according to Luna.

This season has proven to be a challenge for the girls, Luong said. The girls have had to learn to play organized badminton because they come to the game with no formal training or from tennis, he added.

“Another struggle, albeit a minor one, has been teaching the girls how to play and rotate correctly in doubles,” Luong said. “Most of our girls either do not have formal training or they come from tennis, which is kind of similar to badminton but still has its major differences. However, they have been steadily improving as the season goes on.”

Charles Liu

And so far this season, the badminton team has gone undefeated in league play, powered by the strong play of their singles.
“Our strengths would definitely be in our singles players,” the coach said. “All of our boys and singles players have trained at a club level. Therefore, they have been exposed to high level play, and they have also been on our previous teams, including last year’s championship team.”

Luong is cautiously optimistic that this season will be a repeat of last season, with the Tigers holding the championship trophy above their collective heads.

“So far the season has been going great,” he said. “We have won all of our league games so far, and our team chemistry is getting stronger as the season goes by.”

Since this interview, the Tigers lost their first league match to Arcadia and are now 4-1 in league play. Arcadia is in the Open Division.

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Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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