05 May 19
Some may have played a friendly lawn game of badminton from time to time, but the Monticello Empire League Badminton Tournament, hosted by Vacaville High on Thursday and Friday, is not for the faint of heart.
The hosts had several banners on display, one of which read, “We put the bad in badminton.” Not only does this game take a great deal of skill at this level, but also nerves of steel.
Each of the six schools in the league — Davis, Vacaville, Armijo, Rodriguez, Wood and Fairfield — brought their best singles players and doubles pairs, and they went at it for two days in the double-elimination tournament.
The last ones standing were singles winner Phoebe Levine and doubles pair Emma Chang and Emily Cao. All are from Davis, which finished first in the MEL regular season.
The top four singles and doubles finishers in the tournament are named the MEL All-League players who advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section tournament May 10-11 in Lodi. The four singles selections are Levine, Hannah Yoo (Davis), Micayla Manley (Vacaville) and Taciana Bynum (Armijo). The doubles selections are Chang-Cao, Arianna Mestas- Laura Wadsworth (Armijo), Mei McConnell-Maya Alexander (Davis), and Nhu Hin–Jadelien Lieu (Rodriguez).
One of the most competitive matchups was between Mestas-Wadsworth and McConnell-Alexander. In the opening round they split 22-20, 19-21, 22-20, McConnell-Alexander advancing.
Mestas-Wadsworth then won five straight matches in the loser’s bracket and found themselves again facing McConnell-Alexander, who had won two more matches before losing their first match of the tournament to Chang-Cao.
This was another tense match, Mestas-Wadsworth prevailing 17-21, 21-13, 22-20. In the midst of the tension, there was a hilarious moment.
During spring break, the Vacaville team had discovered active beehives in its gym and had to suspend practice while the hives were removed. However, dead bees kept dropping onto the court from the rafters from time to time, even a few during the tournament.
When Wadsworth saw a bee sitting on the court, she tried to flip it away with her racket. Only this bee was alive! She quickly picked up her foot and stomped it, squashing it on the court as the crowd, normally completely silent during a badminton match, erupted in laughter.
Mestas-Wadsworth went on to play Chang-Cao in the finals. The Armijo pair put up a good fight but lost in straight sets, 22-20, 21-15, to the champions, who won all their matches in the tournament.
Levine also won all her matches, beating Vacaville’s Jenny Tang and Micayla Manley on her way to the championship. Manley, who had advanced through the winner’s bracket before falling to Levine, then had to face Davis’s Hannah Yoo, who had also lost to Levine.
Both games were nail biters, highlighted by some great drop battles, Yoo prevailing 27-25, 22-20. But the girls were not only polite and friendly, but also seemed very calm under the circumstances.
“It’s definitely a mental game,” said Manley. “He (Vacaville co-coach Corey Lee) gets on me sometimes because I’ll get in my head and it’s hard to get out. But really the best thing that works is to stay calm. And that’s kind of what got me through staying back and forth with her in the first game.”
Matches were going on simultaneously throughout the tournament, but when Manley and Yoo squared off, it was the only match. All eyes — and there were a good number of spectators — were on them.
Asked if that made her nervous, Manley replied, “Usually I would be. But the last game I didn’t really think about it. I could see how to someone that would be nerve-wracking. But I was just trying to focus on the game.”
A senior, this is Manley’s third year of badminton for the Bulldogs. She plays not only with skill and a great touch, but with intelligence, keeping an eye on her opponent’s position and consistently placing the birdie wherever it will be most difficult to return.
Lee, who has coached Manley throughout her high school career, is impressed with her progress.
“Micayla grows every year,” he said. “She identifies areas that she needs to improve on pretty quickly… A big one this season was footwork and her movement around the court…She put a real effort into making that a reality this season, really pushing herself, doing drills that would help her. It’s that kind of perseverance that you love in an athlete, but I can’t teach them to want to be better… They have to innately want that. So when someone like Micayla has that drive to be better, it’s a wonderful thing to have on the team.”
There is no college badminton, other than intramurals or recreational clubs. Micayla plans to play on the club at her next destination, Boise State, where she will enter the environmental science program.
“They offer a lot of internships,” she said. “Plus I love the campus. It’s really pretty out there.”
Vacaville finished its season with a league record of 11-3, good for second place in MEL, and an overall mark of 13-3.