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Star players lead badminton team to successful season

Flavia and michael
On the left, sophomore Michael Chau prepares to smash the birdie across the net in a match against Wilcox on March 31. On the right, junior Flavia Sitglich practices her return during training. Both players attended to California Interscholastic Federation Northern California Tournament last weekend. Photo: Julia Qiao

Although they may not always train or play together, sophomore Michael Chau and junior Flavia Stiglich are connected by a deeper bond – their love for badminton.

In a short amount of time at Palo Alto High School, Stiglich and Chau have become close friends through their many discussions about their badminton experiences. Both are highly successful players: Chau is nationally ranked in the United States and Stiglich is a member of the Peruvian National Badminton Team.

Together, these newcomers have led Paly’s badminton team to one of its best seasons in years, including successful showings at the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California Tournament over the weekend.

Chau and senior Eric Chiang placed third in the boys’ double division at CIF-Norcal in San Jose, according to Chau. Senior Priya Misner and junior Stiglich also made it into quarterfinals before falling to a team from Carlmont. Chau and Chiang were seeded third heading into Saturday’s tournament after placing second at Central Coast Section finals and first at Santa Clara Valley Athletic League, according to Chau.

Michael Chau: Leader by example

Chau joined the Vikings this year and quickly helped lead the team to victory. Currently, he is ranked 32nd in the Under-19 age group for Boys’ Singles. To be nationally ranked, players must compete in many USA Badminton tournaments. At his peak, Chau was ranked 19th in the nation is his age group playing Boys’ Singles.

Chau’s mother introduced him to the sport at the age of eight, hoping that he would play a sport that he could not get injured in. Having fallen in love with the sport, Chau has spent the last eight years practicing and honing his technique. He hopes to follow his passion and continue badminton far into the future.

“My ultimate goal is to go to the Olympics, but I do not really know if that will happen,” Chau said. “It seems really far away, but you have to dream to keep going.”

Beyond the national tournaments and Olympic dream, Chau has found his spot on Paly’s badminton team. According to assistant coach Arne Lim, he was able to carry the team’s spirit and boost its moral.

“Michael did not win every single time, yet every time he played, everyone watched him,” Lim said. “We usually tried to set his match early in the tournament so it [his match] sets the tone for the team, because when he won, everyone said, ‘Okay, we can do this.’”

Chau’s talent is well known throughout the team and many members value his expertise.

“He is kind of a team leader without a title,” Lim said. “He leads through example and skill. He is a nice guy and a very good team player as well.”

Flavia Stiglich: Leader by teaching

The Vikings also saw the addition of member Flavia Stiglich, who moved from Peru in December 2015. Although she no longer practices with the Peruvian National Badminton Team, she still represents Peru in international competition, including the Pan American Junior Competition, which she has competed in since 2011, and the World Junior Championships, which she competed in since 2015. Stiglich also represents her country at many Southern American tournaments and has been doing so since 2011.

“The best feeling is when I compete with other countries and compete for my country,” Stiglich said. “Because then, you are no longer playing for yourself, but also for your country. When you win something, you are serving something bigger than yourself, and that feeling is something I just cannot describe.”

Stiglich first started badminton at the age of 10, and after two years of practice, she decided to try out for the national badminton team in 2011. At first glance, it seems as though Stiglich’s path has been relatively smooth, reaching national success after two years. However, Stiglich has had to overcome many barriers, the biggest being herself.

“Before the qualification for the World Junior Championships in 2015, I played a tournament to qualify to the 2015 South American Tournament and did not do as well as expected,” Stiglich said. “My mental game was off … so my game was not the level it should have been. During the time between the South American and Worlds qualifications, I had a tough time thinking that I was not going to make it to Worlds and that I was not good enough.”

Stiglich admits that she thought about quitting badminton but ultimately decided to continue working towards her goal.

“I learned to never give up on my dreams,” Stiglich said. “After working on my mental strength and confidence, I was able to overcome all the negative thoughts. When the World Junior Championship qualification tournament came around, I was ready to do my best and qualified to represent my country at the championships.”

Like Chau, Stiglich found her place on the team and soon became a valuable leader on and off the court.

“She is willing to teach others who are willing to listen,” Lim said. “She is willing to take some time to root them on, to be part of the team and really support the women who are on our team. People like her a lot and she has got a wonderful personality. She has a very strong charisma that is poised and confident while not overbearing. … She leads by her knowledge and help.”

With Chau and Stiglich at the helm, the team will already have a strong start by the time the spring badminton season rolls around, despite assistant coach Arne Lim leaving.

“We expect to have a great season next year,” Lim said. “Flavia is only a junior and Michael is only a sophomore, so they will be playing for us next year as well. We also have some people who are returning next year who took this year off, which will add to our team. It will be a season to watch out for.”

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Julia Qiao, Author

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