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SPRING SPORTS PREVIEW '98

Yahya Finally Finds Happy Home at Century

Badminton: After attending four schools in three years, the junior singles player will be key to team's fortunes.

March 17, 1998|MELANIE NEFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — It is becoming increasingly common for student athletes to transfer so they can play on a more competitive team. Usually, it involves a big-name player and a high-profile sport. But not so in the case of Century's Hendy Yahya, who left Savanna because it didn't have a badminton program.

Yahya, a junior, even went so far as to approach Savanna officials to try to get a badminton team together. When that didn't work, he left.

"I love badminton," said Yahya, 17. "I wanted to go to Century, because I heard they had a good team. Century is a good school too."

Yahya, a Santa Ana resident whose family is from Indonesia, should know a good school when he attends one--Century is his fourth in three years. He also attended Foothill and Santa Ana, because his family moved. Yahya says Century is his last stop.

He likes his new team and likes their chances to make a run at the Division I title. If this happens, Yahya will play a large part in winning the championship.

While this will be his first year of high school badminton, it is definitely not his first in the sport. His father, Yahya Saenole, taught him to play, and for five years he has been playing at the Orange County Badminton Club, where he spent time training with Ignatius Rusli, the No. 2-ranked men's player in the United States. This, and the level of competition he has been playing, puts him well beyond the skill level of many of his teammates, who have been playing for four years in high school.

"This is a new experience for him, coming to the high school level," Century Coach Ralph Cervantes said. "His prior skills are the main reason. This sport is dominated by four-year high school players. He is one of the few who comes in with three or four years of outside experience. In badminton, kids come in and learn for four years and that is it. He already has a base."

While Yahya's previous experience has put him ahead of many, it also has been a bit of a hindrance. At the Orange County Badminton Club, players use feather shuttlecocks; in high school, they are strictly plastic. A huge difference for anyone trying to go between the two.

"You can't control the plastic birds," Yahya said. "It's faster than feather. I know how to control the feather birdies, it is more skill. I like to take my time and plan. With feather you don't just hit it."

Along with trying to adjust to the plastic birdies, Yahya also has let nerves get the most of him in high school. In the Garden Grove tournament, he lost in the quarterfinals of the boys' singles.

"My mental [game is my weakness]," Yahya said. "I got nervous. This is my first year, but I'm trying really hard and my teammates really support me. They pump me up when I make a mistake."

Cervantes doesn't see his No. 1 boys' singles player making many mistakes the rest of this season, and says he is the final key to a team with 15 returning starters.

"He is a complement to this team," Cervantes said. "He gives us a lot more stability. There is a definite difference in his level of play.'

When asked about individual goals, Yahya, who says he is good at any sport he plays, admits he wants to play professionally one day. But for now, he will just be happy leading his team to the Southern Section finals.

"I love it here," Yahya said. "Especially my teammates. They are happy I came and I'm very glad."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

PRESEASON TOP 10

Garden Grove: Returns 10 starters.

Katella: Should challenge for Empire title.

Magnolia: Should make it all the way.

Ocean View: Returning a strong lineup.

Century: Entire team returns.

Loara: Returns only three players.

La Quinta: Talent-filled in boys, mixed doubles.

Buena Park: Favorite for Freeway League title.

Corona del Mar: Looking for playoff appearance.

Westminster: Hard pressed to topple Ocean View.

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