Arizona College Prep High School has accomplished many feats over the course of the last three years.
It opened a large new campus that has allowed for the school to continue to grow. It held its first true football home game at its own stadium and opened other new state-of-the-art facilities for its other sports to enjoy.
But the one thing that has been missing was a state championship in any sport. But not anymore.
ACP’s badminton program became the first athletics team to bring home a title to the school. And it did so as the No. 6 seed in the Division II tournament.
“It’s exciting, it’s awesome but it’s all because of the girls,” ACP badminton coach Andi Giberson said. “The girls worked so hard this season and they made it happen. I can sit on the sideline but ultimately, they’re the ones on the court and they’re the ones that have to make it happen.”
The Knights took down No. 11 Greenway before upsetting third-ranked Verrado 5-4, followed by second-ranked Ironwood 5-3. The win over Ironwood avenged its loss from last year’s state tournament.
ACP then went on to face Prescott, the heavily favored top-ranked team. But the Knights continued to play their best badminton in a 5-3 win.
Rayna and Naina Shaik, twin players at ACP, secured the victory in their doubles match. Ashley Yang was also key to Arizona College Prep’s success. She finished third in the singles tournament a week prior.
Captain Fatima Ahmed, Sumedha Balwadgi and Abby Iyer were among other players that helped lead ACP to its first title in school history.
“Our athletic director was at the tournament along with another administrator and they called it into the administrator at the football game. They announced it over the loudspeaker, and it apparently brought the house down,” Giberson said, adding that the win was because of the captains on the team.
“Our captains and their leadership, they were really good about reassuring and reminding the girls how far we’ve come. They believed. That’s all because of the captains.”
While ACP took down Prescott for the Division II title, Hamilton took down district-rival Perry in Division I.
The Huskies ended the five-year reign Perry had at the Division I level. Since 2017, the Pumas were a staggering 103-1 and had captured a state-record five state championships in a row.
But Hamilton came prepared for this matchup.
“It was amazing to see how hard our varsity team worked all year and for it to pay off in the end,” Hamilton badminton coach Lauren Rosales said. “Even more amazing that we ended up losing to them the week prior, and that game was a huge game with a lot on the line.
“Looking at how it all turned out now, it’s pretty awesome our kids were able to come back and beat a team we lost to the week prior.”
Nihira Sane and Saba Shakir, Hamilton’s top doubles team, secured the victory after rallying from a set behind. They won their match and clinched the 5-4 team victory over the Pumas.
Rosales, who had never beaten Perry in her eight years coaching the Hamilton badminton program, said it was a surreal moment. She has watched as countless banners for other sports had gone up inside the gym.
But she said it will be a sweet feeling seeing her team’s banner and trophy on display at the school, the first badminton title in school history.
“When you walk down our hall there are tons of team and individual state champions,” Rosales said. “It’s going to be amazing to see a badminton picture go up next to everybody else.”
Hamilton, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, dominated its way to the team title. It took down Queen Creek in a clean sweep before giving up just one set to Basha, which had one of the top doubles teams in the state.
The Huskies then went on to beat Mountain View 5-1 before their match against Perry that came down to the wire.
Sane, a freshman, and Shakir also claimed the Division I doubles state title in the process. Teammate Samiya Bodhankar was the runner-up in the singles tournament.
The state championship in badminton was the first of two early team titles clinched by Hamilton in the fall sports season.
Just three days earlier, the Hamilton girls’ golf program was crowned champion at the Division I level. But like the badminton title, that, too, came down to the wire.
“I wasn’t entirely confident we would stay in first but there was a point in the round where it was like, ‘Ok, we can’t lose second,’” said Hamilton girls’ golf coach Jackie Walker, who coached the badminton team alongside Rosales for two years. “It can change so quickly. One hole.
“(But) I was pretty confident going into the 18th hole. I had a lot of faith in my team, and they came through.”
Hamilton went back-and-forth with runner-up Xavier Prep throughout the two-day tournament. Pinnacle, which placed third, wasn’t far behind.
Walker said it wasn’t until the final few holes she knew her team had secured the state title. It came with a deep breath and sigh of relief. Hamilton shot a 631 overall over the course of two days. Xavier shot 635 and Pinnacle 636.
Angela Chen led the pack most of the tournament but was passed up by teammate and UCLA golf commit Jennifer Seo. The two placed first and second, respectively, with Seo winning her second straight individual state title by edging Chen 70 strokes to 72 on the second day.
“(Seo) is actually the first player I’ve had for all four years. So, I’ve seen her grow from her freshman year to senior,” Walker said. “She really does have a successful future and ultimately, her dream is to go pro. I can’t wait to watch her on the Tour.”
Along with Seo and Chen, Hamilton was led by Flora Tao, Laura Seo and Lizzie Walls. All of them placed within the top 50.
“It’s pretty amazing knowing who we beat. Xavier has always been a rival and they’re always at the top of our list of teams to beat,” Walker said. “We did it. We pulled it off.”
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