All eyes in gym were on them. The focus of state badminton championship between Xavier College Preparatory and Mountain Pointe, which had started an hour earlier with six simultaneous singles matches, was now squarely on the doubles match between each school’s number 3 ranked doubles teams. The first and second ranked doubles teams had just started to play their matches, but not many people were paying attention to them. Even the players for those doubles teams kept glancing over to court number 3, where Xavier’s Weslie Norris and Julia Friedman were playing Mountain Pointe’s Danielle Stewart and Nadya Zolotova.
Julia already had won her singles match, as had her teammates Carissa Pappas, Danielle Dozer and Danielle Mark, to give Xavier a 4-2 lead in the team competition. One more win would give Xavier the title and everyone in the crowd of more than 200 knew it.
Badminton is usually played in a quiet gym before a handful of people. There was nothing quiet about the Shadow Mountain High School gym, especially after Julia and Weslie won their first game 15-3 in just six minutes.
“It definitely made us more nervous,” Julia said, “but we tried really hard to keep our focus.”
“We had never played in front of a crowd like that before,” Weslie added.
Julia and Weslie were able to keep their focus for eight more minutes, which was the time they needed to win the second, and deciding, game 15-6. The shuttlecock had barely hit the net and fallen to the floor, when the Xavier players on the other two courts stopped in the middle of play and rushed over to hug their teammates.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Weslie said of the moment she and Julia won the deciding match to win the state title.
Afterward, parents posed with their daughters around the championship trophy. Danielle Dozer’s dad, Rich, former president of the Arizona Diamondbacks, had posed for similar photos exactly eight years ago to the night, when the Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series. Rich recalled how Danielle, then age 9, ran around the Diamondbacks clubhouse spraying champagne after the dramatic Game 7 win.
“I was much more nervous tonight because it is my own daughter,” Rich said.
The Diamondbacks winning the World Series may be the greatest moment in Arizona sports history, but I have a pretty good feeling that, for Rich Dozer, it now comes in second to his daughter’s team winning the 2009 5A state badminton title. — Dan Barr