Vi Koka will end her athletic career at Mountain Pointe as one of the most decorated badminton players in the long and successful history of the Pride program.
She helped the Pride to a Division I team title last season as a junior, won a doubles state title as a sophomore and is one of the favorites to win a singles title this year.
Koka has great court awareness, quick feet, and handles the racquet with deadly accuracy. The way she approaches the sport isn’t surprising considering her academic standing.
She is in line to be Mountain Pointe’s valedictorian because she answer tests questions with deadly accuracy, quickly focuses on pop quizzes and is always aware of what is next on the syllabus.
“That’s just who she is,” teammate Kiyoko Hashimoto said. “She’s been working toward this since she was a freshman. She is very hard working so it’s not really a surprise.”
Koka, whose GPA while taking all AP classes is 4.93 (weighted), said she didn’t enter high school thinking about being a valedictorian, but once she realized it her competitiveness kicked in to make sure it got done.
“I’m really proud of it and it’s exciting,” she said. “I didn’t think it was possible, but then after the first semester I like, ‘OK. I better work at this.’
“I just have to keep working hard and I can’t plateau.”
Koka said her parents, Narea and Hairtha, have had a big hand in her academic success.
“They push me to do my best in school and told me to always expect more of myself,” she said. “At first they had to push, but now I want to do it.”
Koka, who is already taking college courses as part of the duel enrollment, is hoping to attend UC Berkley, where she visited on Monday, and study electrical engineering.
“It is the third best in the world for electrical engineering and it’s a really cool place,” said Koka, who is interning at a software company. “I hope I get in. I also like ASU’s Barrett. We will see how it works out.”
Wherever she ends up it will probably be a smooth transition like the one the Pride has gone under with new coach Larry Holmes, who replaced the popular Pom Brown after she resigned.
Holmes, who also coaches boys tennis and junior varsity girls basketball at Mountain Pointe, has injected a hard working, physical approach to the team.
They are running and testing their athletic ability more than ever before with Holmes in charge.
“It’s going really well and we are working hard,” Hashimoto said. “We are working harder physically than before.”
It has led to a 11-0 start heading into Wednesday’s home match against Hamilton. The team also has performed well in tournaments at Chaparral and Independence in recent weeks.
“In my five years here it has been one of the more enjoyable teams I’ve coached,” Holmes said. “They are fun and a very good team to coach. It takes a lot of stamina to play this sport and they understand they have to keep their stamina up and have been good about it.”
The team is the defending state champion and has only three matches left, including a showdown at Xavier on Monday and the season finale at Desert Vista.
It helps having the state’s top two individual singles players in Hashimoto and Koka, who played in the finals of the Chaparral tournament. Hashimoto, who finished as the state runner-up last year, won the third set 11-7 after they split the first two games.
“It got pretty intense after we split,” Koka said. “We were laughing and having fun with it until the third one. I lost, but I’m confident this year and I think I closed the gap.”
Maybe so, but she doesn’t have to worry about it in the classroom, where she is the clear frontrunner.
“She is very humble and a hard worker,” Holmes said. “You would never know she is the top student. To be that good and remain humble isn’t common. It’s been a pleasure to coach her.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @JSkodaAFN.