Moua Yang cut her teeth on "badminton" at age 5 in her native Thailand.
Intrigued with the sport, but without family means to buy a racket and a birdie, she and older brother Preston improvised by swatting with sandals a wadded paper bag wrapped in a rubber band.
"We invented the shoe thing to play," she says eight years after immigrating to the United States with her family.
And she says this standing with pride and improbable accomplishment -- at all of 5 feet tall -- outside a Clovis East High gymnasium, having gone 66-1 in the past two seasons of Central Section badminton, including 32-0 this year, as The Bee's repeat Player of the Year.
Most important, she says, are the experience and personal growth beyond statistics: "I'm a very shy, insecure person. But when I learned the game of badminton here, it taught me how to be a leader, to do your best and be confident. I used to be scared to play, but I'm not scared any more. Badminton broadened my confidence each and every year, to meet new people and friends, just to know more and more people."
The section individual tournament champion leaves Clovis East for Fresno State in pursuit of a degree in business.
"She's one of these gals who will take over her own business and be in a top management position," says Clovis East coach Janine Sodersten. "She just has this personality that is contagious; people want to be around her. High school here has been good for Moua. It's helped her mature, knowing she can do things in life and succeed. And I'm not sure that would have happened in her homeland of Thailand."
Yang, an honor student, agrees: "High school has been the greatest experience, hanging out with friends and with all the teachers helping me, in classes where I don't know English. I'm just so happy to have met all my friends and coaches, especially Mrs. Sod."
That would be Sodersten, the area's most influential figure in the sport since it was introduced to the North Area of the section in 2009. Her teams have typically large in numbers and successful (three section titles, two runners-up).
She has seen the game evolve in a way that greatly challenged Yang physically, yet the tiny Timberwolf plowed forward with exceptional technique and guise.
When the sport was implemented in the section, it was geared toward athletes of Southeast Asian descent, giving them a chance of competing in a activity not founded on size and strength.
But that's changed considerably, resulting in repeated physical mismatches for Yang, facing imposing athletes whose primary sports are basketball or volleyball, such as 6-footer Maddie Ogas of Clovis.
"Moua had to take away the strength of her opponents by countering with her strength," Sodersten says. "She hit angle shots like no other player I've ever seen."
Yang reduced her own explanation to the simplest form: "When I played taller girls, I didn't hit high because they could smash any time. So I aimed for corners.
"I just made opponents as short as me."
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