Clovis East captures Central Section badminton title
They stood as one early Friday evening, cradling their third Central Section championship badminton plaque in four years at Clovis East High, and it mattered none whatsoever the variance in height and athletic background between 5-foot-2 Maikor Xiong and 5-foot-8 Hannah Sodersten.
Such is the beauty of badminton, a growing 12-year-old sport in the Fresno/Clovis area.
“In so many words,” Clovis East athletic director Pete Price says, “every girl can play no matter what athletic ability they have. It’s an exploding sport; competitive and fun.”
No one has played it better than Xiong, Sodersten and the Timberwolves, who closed a second straight unbeaten season by defeating Buchanan 11-8 on their home court.
Xiong, as 15-0 Clovis East’s No. 1 singles player and headed for a third straight Bee All-Star honor, won 11-0, 11-0 in her first match and 11-0, 11-1 in her second. Carrying a 3.9 grade-point average, she will attend UC Davis on an academic scholarship.
Sodersten, a returning Bee All-Star in badminton and The Bee’s 2011 co-Player of the Year in golf, where she is headed to Fresno State on athletic scholarship, coasted in her matches 11-0, 11-0 and 11-1, 11-1.
On a day the Timberwolves were not pushed in singles as Buchanan coach Bene Azali, as expected, dropped his top singles players into doubles, Clovis East also received 11-1, 11-2 and 11-0, 11-1 wins from its No. 4 player, Gao Nou Vang.
By stacking his doubles, Azali rolled the dice while hoping to sweep all 10 doubles points. The Bears won eight as Clovis East’s Yula Thao and Ka Thao (no relation) torpedoed the strategy by winning twice.
For seniors Xiong, Sodersten and Vang, it was a fitting curtain call, having contributed to teams that went 57-3 in four years.
“It’s really amazing we won the three Valley championships,” Xiong said. “But I’m kind of sad I’m leaving, though.”
She is a prime example of a Southeast Asian-American student-athlete who has seized the opportunity to compete in a sport launched in the area 12 years ago in part to better connect students of her descent on campus. At Clovis East, coach Janine Sodersten, Hannah’s mother, counts 51 Asian-Americans among the 55 players in her program.
Now the question: Will Janine Sodersten continue to direct the school’s girls tennis and badminton programs with three younger children — one girl, two boys — coming up through the district and active in sports?
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ll talk to my husband this summer, sit on it and take a look.”
Hannah Sodersten, while looking forward to plowing into golf fulltime as a Bulldog, is not about to walk away from badminton entirely.
“Fresno State has an open gym for recreation badminton,” she said, “so I’ll play there.”
By Andy Boogaard