Almost every badminton player loves to smash the birdie past his or her opponent.
Vallejo High’s Ruben Dapikilla is no different.
The difference for Dapikilla in 2022, however, is adding a bit of finesse to his game as well.
The senior showed off that versatility last week as the Redhawks beat Pinole Valley and El Cerrito as the Redhawks improved to 5-0 and sit in first place in the Tri-County Athletic League.
In singles matches last week, he beat El Cerrito 21-16, 21-18 and then Pinole Valley 21-7, 21-8. He is 11-1 in matches this year.
Dapikilla is the Times-Herald Athlete of the Week.
“He really started to listen this year,” Vallejo head coach Mac McKenzie said. “Just like JP (John Paul Gutierrez), he always wants to smash, smash, smash, but we talked a lot about if the opponent is playing close, then hit it softly in the back of them. I think he started playing smarter. That’s why he’s winning.”
The 18-year-old agreed with his coach.
“My freshman year, it was all about power, power, power,” he said. “I’ve really tried to improve my control. I’ve tried more drops and just going side to side more.”
McKenzie said he has coached Dapikilla’s two other brothers (Emanuel and William) as well and said Ruben is probably the strongest of the three. The coach said Ruben was his No. 3 or 4 players two seasons ago when Vallejo last had a full season. The Redhawks played just a handful of matches in the spring of 2021 due to the pandemic.
Vallejo has won most of its matches by blowout, but pulled out one-point wins over De Anza and Hercules as well. McKenzie figures that as long as the team can beat one of those two teams the second time through the schedule, the Redhawks will be TCAL champions.
Aside from his strong singles resume, Dapikilla has formed a strong doubles duo with Gutierrez, another player who has been solid all season.
“They are close friends and they work well together,” McKenzie said. “JP was actually my No. 1 (singles) player to begin the year, but Ruben beat him out during a challenger match at practice.”
Dapikilla said Gutierrez is his best friend.
“We started together as freshmen, so we have great chemistry,” he said. “We know how the other moves and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
McKenzie wasn’t sure what the team format might be like for the North Coast Section tournament yet. Vallejo won Sac-Joaquin Section girls championships in 2007 and 2015 under McKenzie.
Dapikilla’s only defeat in singles came to a player from De Anza.
“I don’t really think I played my best,” he said of the match. “I got a little thrown off by the atmosphere. The lights were kind of blinding in their gym.”
- Braxton Brown (Benicia softball) hit two homers and picked up the win in the circle against Clayton Valley Charter as she scattered six hits and three runs.
- Aidan Chen (Benicia boys tennis) improved to 7-0 overall with a win over Mt. Diablo.
- Elijah Ibay (Bethel boys tennis) defeated his opponent in No. 1 singles to lead a win over Vallejo.
- Elijah Singleton (Bethel volleyball) had six kills, three blocks and four digs against Richmond, six blocks and two digs in a win over Pinole and seven kills and three blocks against Vallejo.
- Alexandria Yra (American Canyon softball) was 3-for-3 with three RBIs as the Wolves beat Fairfield.