The badminton season is upon us and once again Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista should be heavy players in the state tournament chase.
The Pride has won four state titles since 2003 with the last coming in 2007 while finishing as runners-up in 2008 and 2009.
Last season was considered a step back after being knocked out in the Class 5A state quarterfinals, but before being upset by sixth-seeded Chandler, the Pride went 13-2 to earn the third seed.
"We had a mix of young and older players but not many were experienced," Brown said. "We got better by the end of the year."
Last year's youth are the Pride's leaders this year.
Sophomores Kiyoko Hashimoto and Vashnavi Koka enter the season as No. 1 and No. 2 in singles action after similar roles last season.
Hashimoto was the second seed in the state individual tournament and advanced to the third round, while Koka made it to the second round.
Brown said the tandem was still finding their way at this time last year, but have really improved since the end of the year.
"They are much better," Brown said. "We are counting on them to be leaders."
The rest of the projected roster has only one senior - Jenna Dogherty - among the top six players.
"We are going to find out how good they are," said Brown, who has a 60-7 record in her five seasons. "We have to have quality depth to be good."
Other top players are junior Sabrina Martinez, junior Geneva Heinkel and sophomore Tegan Wambol.
Team depth will be more essential than ever now that the Arizona Interscholastic Association has revamped the state tournament.
There is only one state tournament, compared to two in years past, with only the top 16 teams in all of Arizona (a total of 46 programs) making the field.
The top three teams from the three sections, both area programs are in Section II, advance with the seven remaining spots going to the nine best at-large bids based on power ratings.
Desert Vista has made the state tournament six straight years, including semifinal appearances in 2007 and 2008.
The Thunder lost in the first round to Chandler, which ended up losing in the state semifinals and is one of the favorites this season.
Desert Vista had a senior-laden squad last year and the early departure was a disappointment.
The top returning player - Susan Tu - should be the No. 1 singles player as a senior after winning 79 percent of her matches a year ago at No. 3.
The other player to watch is junior Victoria Wadsworth, who won 83 percent of her matches in the No. 8 position last season.
Thunder coach Jeremy Williams, who has a record of 64-43 in eight years, is confident the team will be in the hunt by the end of the year.
"The team this year has the potential to be very competitive in the state," Williams said. "We have great leadership and they work hard."
He expects to get better each week considering the inexperience to start the season.
"They are always learning," he said.
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