Geneva Heinkel and Sabrina Martinez weren’t even the best badminton doubles team on their own team last season.
Now, they take a back seat to no one.
The Mountain Pointe seniors claimed the state doubles title for the second year in a row. The Pride secured the championship plaque, after topping Xavier’s top duo in two sets (17-14, 15-10).
Heinkel and Martinez found themselves trailing the Gators’ Carina Arellano and Meghan Crown, 14-6, in the first set, but the four-year teammates and off-court best friends were resilient. They took the final 11 points on their way to becoming the No. 1 doubles team.
“When the last birdie dropped in the final set, I couldn’t believe it,” Martinez said. “I was so happy in that moment, because all the hard work was finally done. We finally did what we set out to do.”
The tandem were pretty good last season, advancing to the Elite Eight, but were overshadowed by teammates and eventual champions Vi Koka and Kiyoko Hashimoto. When Koka and Hashimoto entered the singles tournament this season, it opened the door for Heinkel and Martinez.
“We’ve been waiting four years for this,” said Martinez. “We said from the moment we tried out as freshmen, we were going to win state. The two of us have worked so hard together, so we weren’t about to let a silly start in the first game get to us.”
They can double up that championship feeling this season if they can help the Pride advance to Thursday’s state team title. The tournament started Monday with the Pride as the second seed and Xavier as the No. 1 seed.
If the regular season and the individual state tournament are any indication, Mountain Pointe should be the favorite as it beat the Gators’ 8-1 in the regular season while the lineup contains the last two state championship doubles teams along with two of the top three individuals from this year’s singles tournament.
Hashimoto was the top seed in the individual tournament but finished second when she was upset by Chaparral’s Courtney Foltz in the finals and Koka took third after falling to Foltz in the semifinals.
Foltz entered this weekend’s state tournament at Independence High School as the No. 3 seed. She had very few defeats during the regular season, but Hashimoto beat her twice and Koka once.
Hashimoto cruised into Saturday’s final with five straight two-set victories and what looked to be the edge confidence-wise over Foltz.
But according to Arizona’s newest face of badminton, sometimes three times really is a charm.
“This match was completely different from the first two,” Foltz said. “I just tried to stay loose, play my game and dominate (Hashimoto.) After I lost to her at the Chaparral invitational, I knew what I needed to work on. And lately I’ve just been working so hard trying to prepare for this tournament. All of that really helped.”
Foltz, who helped Chaparral claim the doubles’ championship as a sophomore in 2010, said that despite her previous struggles against Hashimoto, she had complete confidence that this year would still be hers.
“I did have a lot of confidence, because I was a high seed in the tournament,” said Foltz. “To be able to win both the singles and doubles now is truly amazing.
“I’ve always loved playing this sport. It’s all about adrenaline and every single point matters.”
Whether it was a case of the nerves or just the conclusion of a long, grinding season, Hashimoto struggled to find her game in the final, scoring a combined two points in the two-set defeat.
Despite her woes in the final match, the Pride’s junior star was reflective when talking about her state runner-up campaign.
“It was a really good year but also a really tough year,” said Hashimoto. “(Foltz) played really well in the final, and it was just hard for me to get back into it. I still have my senior year left and based on how we did today, we should be good again next year.”
In addition to Hashimoto’s runner-up finish, teammate Koka, who split a pair of matches against Foltz in the regular season, was defeated by Foltz in a thrilling three-set semifinal, but rebounded in the consolations to take home third-place honors.
The Pride’s other doubles team, consisting of Larae Keso and Tegan Wambold, made it to the fourth round before being knocked out.
Desert Vista’s doubles team of Alyssa Goldberg and Aakriti Gupta and Victoria Wadsworth-Suhitha Veeravelli both advanced to the third round before being eliminated.
The Thunder’s Karen Gua made it to the third round in singles action, while teammate Caitlin Fagan lost in the second round.
Desert Vista entered the state team title as the 16th seed and faced Xavier.
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.