After two years of closure due to the pandemic, the De Anza College women’s badminton team returned to official competitions for the first time this year.
The majority of the team, including the coaches, said they believed their biggest test of the season would be against Fresno City College for the Coast Conference Championship. They also hope to keep up their unbeaten streak and protect themselves during the pandemic.
Head coach Mark Landefeld said that Fresno has always been the hardest opponent to beat. Fresno would take over for the Coast Conference Championship if they win by eight points more.
The Mountain Lions are currently eight years away from winning their last Coast Conference Championship. With the team’s current winning streak of 11, players are poised to claim that honor again.
In an increasingly competitive rivalry, Fresno has played De Anza College every year since they are part of the conference. In 2017, both teams shared the conference championship title, but only Fresno represented the conference in the state finals.
“We’re really strong this year,” said team captain Emma Walker, 18, an economics major. “We have a lot of great players and I think we really have a shot at state championships.”
Assistant coach Jay Dinh was team captain in 2013-14 and was there when they won the conference and state championships in both years. Dinh, using she/them pronouns, said they look forward to seeing this team climb the mountain.
“We’re really close, but not quite,” Dinh said. “So we’re looking forward to representing the north at the state finals this year and hopefully winning the state title afterwards.”
If they win against Fresno, the Mountain Lions would face Irvine City College on May 12 for the Coast Conference Championship.
With the badminton season resuming during a pandemic, the team’s players have had to undergo multiple screenings and meet health guidelines to compete with other community colleges.
Landefeld said the biggest difference between before and after the pandemic is that players have to wear masks and test twice a week.
“I’m a bit paranoid that I’ll come onto campus tomorrow and find out that someone has tested positive,” Landefeld said. “We have to quarantine them and they are not available for the game.”
If players test positive, Dinh said players would have to forgo training and competition for a full week.
“(Luckily) It seems like we haven’t been particularly affected by COVID,” Walker said. “I think we have the biggest team in the state, so number and strength of players is definitely not an issue for us.”
Additionally, Dinh said another struggle the team experienced was the transition some players had to make between high school and college badminton. Dinh believed that despite the team being made up of players from different backgrounds and levels of experience, that won’t stop the girls from playing strong.
“Everybody’s technically a first-grader,” Dinh said. “Even if they competed in high school, it’s different playing at the college level because we expect them to compete in more than one event at a time.”
When asked about her experience, Walker said she found the team by searching the De Anza website and said she learned to play alongside returning and new players.
Malaya Paras-Mangrobang, 19, who majors in kinesiology, met the Landefeld team while playing for James Logan High School. She said she was initially concerned about joining because of the team’s rankings, but her interest in badminton eventually won out.
“We need to change our dynamic and see how we play together,” Paras-Mangrobang said. “I like it and it’s really nice because everyone is really supportive, whether you win or lose.”
Dinh said her goal for the rest of the season is to be healthy and confident for her games during the pandemic.
“We had a strong start and a great girl group,” Dinh said. “They are all very dedicated, hardworking and I look forward to them making sure all that hard work pays off and finishes strong.”
Paras-Mangrobang said the team is open to anyone with a passion for badminton because everyone on the team is welcoming.
“It’s like family,” Paras-Mangrobang said. “You’ll grow fond of it.”