You’ve most likely heard the term, “Flipping the switch,” used to describe an athlete or team that suddenly stops clowning around and gets serious.
Trevor Tan and Vivian Yao are two athletes who can flip that proverbial switch. While they may be your typical, average teenagers, the San Mateo badminton duo knows when it’s winning time and they did it better than most. The two paired together to win the league title, finish second in the section tournament and ended the season with a fifth-place finish at the Northern California tournament.For their efforts, Tan and Yao are the Daily Journal’s Boys’ and Girls’ Badminton Players of the Year.
“Honestly, the high school season is more for fun. But at the same time, I’m trying to win,” said Tan, who just wrapped up his junior season. “I think I’m always pretty competitive. I know some kids who also play club and they don’t care (about the high school season) as much.
“I’m still bothered by the fact that [we] got second place (at CCS).”
San Mateo head coach Justin Lee has seen both sides of Tan and Yao and knows firsthand that when matches roll around, they are ready to compete.
“Both are very happy-go-lucky. Very easy going,” Lee said. “At times, they’re both goofy, but once they get into the game, once they understand they’re playing for something, it does switch.”
Said Yao: “I have a lot of (badminton) friends, but on the court I get really serious. When I get on the court, I want to win.”
The duo certainly did do a lot of winning. While they’ve had their share of success together in previous seasons — this was the third year in a row they played mixed doubles for the Bearcats — that was as singles players who paired together for the playoffs.
This year, however, they spent a bulk of the time playing together during Peninsula Athletic League matches.
“The reason we did that was because I was kinda hurt in the beginning of the season,” Tan said. “But it gave us more practice and better communication (on the court before the playoffs).”
The tandem, who are both accomplished club players and who have been playing for most of their lives, dominated the PAL regular season as they went on to claim the Ocean Division and overall PAL championships.
“Ocean Division was easier to play in. The play was more low key,” said Yao, who is a recent San Mateo graduate. “But we would try to improve our partnership and sometimes we would split up and play with other players. We were kind of like coaches. The team is pretty large and [coach Lee] was just one guy.”
With their strong play during the regular season and PAL tournament, Tan and Yao went into the Central Coast Section mixed doubles tournament as the No. 1 seed. They knew the caliber of play was about to ramp up and they were ready for it.
“Going into CCS ... this was the next step up,” Lee said. “The other leagues are a lot more competitive than a lot of teams around here.
“They handled it well. … When they want it, they’re hard to stop.”
The Bearcats’ pair swept past a Cupertino team, 21-11, 21-14 in the first round, but got their first real test from Palo Alto’s Dylan Zou and Ivy Wang in the second. They handed Tan and Yao a rare, first-set loss, 15-21. But they did not panic, rebounding to win the final two sets, 21-16, 21-18.
Their roll was stopped in the winner’s bracket final, however, as Cupertino’s Calvin Xia and Maggie Li handed the San Mateo pair its first postseason loss, 17-21, 16-21.
The slump continued for Tan and Yao in their next match, as they lost their third set in a row, dropping the first set to Valley Christian’s Derek Tan and Sunnie Li, 14-21. But Tan and Yao came back to win the second, 21-16, and then needed overtime to win the match 22-20 in the third set.
That put them into the tournament final against Xia and Li, who won the championship with a 21-17, 21-12 decision.
That runner-up finish did qualify Tan and Yao for the Nor Cal tournament, where they went 4-1 in capturing the consolation final — beating the same Palo Alto team they had bested in the second round of CCS.
“Most of the time when we up playing in CCS and Nor Cals, it’s almost all the kids we meet in (club) tournaments,” Yao said. “It’s still pretty easy to keep it competitive. You can be friends off (the court), but on the court, there’s no mercy.”
Added Tan: “I’m friends with a lot of people who play club and high school, but once you’re on the court … there can only be one winner.”