One half of Ironwood's first state badminton doubles title team was part of the Eagles' first team state team championship a year ago.
The other half was not playing on varsity but facing a tougher opponent.
Ironwood seniors Lexi Hogan and Juliana Traylor-Rowan broke through for the Division II powerhouse's first singles or doubles title on Oct. 23, beating Taylor Bevell and Emily Delabarra 21-19, 21-8 in the finals at Independence High School.
“Lexi went through cancer surgery. She had thyroid cancer her junior year so that kind of put her behind. To give her come back and get a state championship — to overcome and achieve —— is awesome. She’s a fighter,” Ironwood coach Brett Stafford said.
Like most of even the best high school badminton duos, Hogan and Traylor-Rowen had not played together before their senior season.
Stafford tried out the combination first in a preseason scrimmage against always solid. Mountain Ridge. He said this team struggled in the first game against Mountain Ridge but got better every game.
Then, Stafford said, Mountain Ridge had to play dominant Gilbert Perry and did pretty well against them. That caused him to slot Hogan and Traylor-Rowley as his top team.
“We were pretty confident from the beginning. We had the plan of winning state and we wanted to push through until we got that goal,” Hogan said.
She said they realized they complemented each other well in the offseason.
“The biggest thing is probably communication, telling your partner where to be when you need them to be there and tell them what shot you’re going to hit before you even hit it,” Traylor-Rowen said.
Both also have the ability to mix finesse shots with power and dictate terms of the match to opponents.
“They move very well together on the court. They both have good communication and can hit every shot,” Stafford said.
Those abilities shone through in a state rematch with Sunrise Mountain.
In the Mustangs' 5-4 win over the Eagles Oct. 6 in Peoria, Sunrise Mountain seniors Hattie Hearnen and Kylie Milner picked up a key win over Hogan and Traylor-Rowland 21-12, 2-13.
“We learned when we first played them that they like to hit a lot of birdies really hard. When we played them in the regular season we didn’t catch on that much. But at state we knew what to do,” Hogan said.
During the semifinal rematch Oct. 23, the Eagles' duo remained in control throughout, winning 21-16, 21-14.
“I knew a big test would be Sunrise Mountain. Mentally we were just there and we got them out of their game and put it to them. Once we got through that I was pretty confident as long as we played our game because the other side of the bracket was all torn up,” Stafford said.
The finals was also a rematch, though Ironwood's team won the first time. After a close first game, the Eagles team got on such a roll that the ending was a surprise.
Hogan said she did not realize what was happening until the fans came out to celebrate with them.
“I didn’t even realize it for a second until Lexi started jumping up and down and then I thought, ‘Wait, that was it.’ I was waiting for a big, special last put down and it was just a drop,” Traylor-Rowen said.
Senior Diana Batrez Ramirez nearly joined them atop the podium, reaching the singles final before falling to Gilbert Campo Verde's Jaclyn Whaley 21-14, 19-21, 21-19.
The Eagles kept their team repeat bid alive this week, rolling through Greenway and Chandler Arizona College Prep in the first two rounds.
“I want the girls we have on the varsity team now to experience that. I tell them every day when they get down that nothing feels as real as that. I especially want Lexi to have that feeling,” Traylor-Rowen said.
No. 3 seed Ironwood plays at No. 2 Campo Verde tonight. The winner plays the victor from No. 1 Prescott and No. 4 Sunrise Mountain in the Division II finals at 6 p.m. Thursday at Cortez High School in Phoenix.
“I’m still waiting to feel that and I can’t wait to feel that,” Hogan said.
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