Northern Marianas Badminton Media Update. Written by James Sablan Jr.
SAIPAN International School bagged its second consecutive badminton title after winning three of five matches against Agape Christian School in the middle school division championship of the TakeCare Interscholastic Badminton League at the TSL Sports Complex on Saturday.
It was a championship like no other as SIS and ACS exchanged leads throughout the games.
ACS was the first to seize control when it triumphed in the boys doubles event. Agape’s Daniel Yang and Raffy Cai worked well with Yang focused on support while Cai played as the aggressor with strong finishes. SIS’ Frank Li and Allen He stood their ground and had an answer for every point won by ACS, but they fell short in the end as Yang connected the final blow to give ACS the first set, 21-20.
SIS then bounced back thanks to the chemistry of Lina Tsukagoshi and Nara Kim in the girls doubles.
SIS bagged the first set, 21-15, but failed to keep the momentum burning as ACS’ Barbara Wang and May Kim notched the second set, 21-18. In the third and final set, SIS’ Kim stepped up with back-to-back clutch finishes to snag victory, 21-20, and even the match score.
The seesaw battle continued as SIS’ Tsukagoshi triumphed in the girls singles over ACS’ Wang, 21-5, 21-5, but ACS’ Yang countered with a win against SIS’ Frank Li in a three-set battle royale, 21-6, 9-21, 21-18. At this point, the overall match score was a 2-2 deadlock.
It all came down to the final mixed doubles event which was filled with nail-biting action.
In the first set, ACS’ Yang and Wang paired well and overwhelmed SIS’ Li and Tsukagoshi with powerful returns and forced errors for a 21-18 victory.
But the SIS players kept their cool in the second set and executed advanced techniques such as soft returns for the drop shots which forced ACS to make lob returns in order to keep the possession alive. But this only allowed SIS to finish with powerful smashes en route to second set victory, 21-19.
In the third and final set, ACS held the early lead thanks to SIS’ errors. But after a timeout was called, SIS played more steadily.
ACS’ Yang and Wang gave it their all, but critical errors and short returns allowed SIS to seal the deal, 21-18, and win the championship.
“I was very nervous,” said SIS’ Li when asked what was going through his mind during the winner-takes-all mixed doubles event.
“It was very close and I was out of energy after playing two games before the mixed doubles,” Tsukagoshi said.
The 12-year-old started playing badminton last year while Li, 14, began playing the game in February of this year.
“I was very happy — I feel relieved winning this title,” Tsukagoshi said.
This was Jeremy West’s first year coaching SIS’ badminton team and he gave all the credit to his players. “They did really well — it was all them,” he added.
When asked about his thoughts on the final mixed doubles event, he said, “It was a lot of fun. ACS is great and good competition. It was back-and-forth the entire time — it was a great game.”
ACS coach Pastor Pang said, “I think this could happen to any team. It’s just that my team missed a point and SIS got it.”
It was ACS’ first year to participate in a badminton tournament, and the Agape players started practicing only last month, but they still managed to reach the finals. “We will return next year,” their coach said.