For Song Yang, playing badminton at St. Paul Johnson meant following the lead of her two older sisters. Yang, who last month won the high school singles state championship, saw her sisters Kao Soua and Yeng compete and, like many youngest children, wanted to emulate her role models.

She played for four years at Johnson, and also played volleyball and tennis. Before her senior season, however, she almost gave up on badminton.

Effects of the pandemic led Johnson to shrink its team from its usual 60 to 80 girls to fewer than 30. But then, like her sister Yeng before her, Song was named a team captain. When coach Mark Fischbach told Yang her of her selection, she felt compelled to keep playing.

"I felt really passionate again," she said. "This is what my sisters grew up playing. So when he reached out, I was like, 'No, I have to play.' "

Yang went on to play in the state tournament as the No. 1 seed. Her victory helped the Governors capture their third badminton triple crown, winning the team, singles and doubles titles. Her efforts earned her honors as the Star Tribune Metro Badminton Player of the Year.

"When you say Song is the number one player, [people say], 'Oh, that makes sense,' " Fischbach said. "Even down to her handwriting is perfect. She is a coach's dream for a player you want to work with."

Next year Yang will attend St. Catherine University to study nursing. Although she won't be playing sports in college, she said she plans to return to Johnson to help younger players, just as her sisters and other alumnae helped her.