Garden Grove's Tam Nguyen has taken giant steps since he began playing badminton only one year ago. He went from being his team's No. 2 singles player last year to being its No. 1 player this year, and to being The Times Orange County boys' player of the year.
It wasn't an easy year for Nguyen, who struggled early, losing five of his first 16 matches. However, he finished the season on a roll, losing only two matches. He fell in the Alhambra tournament and at the Southern Section Individual championships.
A highly emotional player, Nguyen dazzled the crowd at the Orange County Badminton Club during the Southern Section Division I team finals. With Garden Grove trailing, Nguyen pulled off a stunning upset to keep the Argonauts in contention.
He won both matches, including a fierce battle against Alhambra Keppel's Xioa Hong, who would later be named the Southern California Badminton Assn. player of the year and was a section individuals finalist.
Having lost to Hong the first weekend of the season, Nguyen was not expected to win the rematch. After losing the first game, 15-7, Nguyen rallied to win the match, 7-15, 15-7, 15-10, giving his team a morale-lifting victory. Unfortunately for Garden Grove, the Argonauts fell one point shy of winning their fourth section title.
"Every tournament this year he kept getting stronger," said Garden Grove Coach Vicki Toutz, who retired at the end of the season having coached the Argonauts for 31 years. "Last year was his first year, so he didn't have a lot of tournament experience. He matured quite a bit this year."
Nguyen, whose record was 61-7 this year against some tough competition, was never swept in a team match. At the section individuals, he lost to Long Beach Wilson's Hoang Bui, the eventual champion, 15-4, 15-10, in the quarterfinals.
"Obviously we were a little disappointed in his finish in [the individuals]," Toutz said of Nguyen. "He wanted to go farther, but he didn't play his style."
He teamed with Rosie Pham to go 31-6 in mixed doubles.
But just as Nguyen took aim at taking over the Argonauts' top spot this year, Toutz said a strong underclass group of players next year will be looking to unseat him.
"He has to continue to play like he did in the finals," Toutz said. "They are going to be gunning for him."