Badminton: T.F. South eyes state title
By Logan Malloy For Sun-Times Media March 13, 2013 9:16PM
T.F. South varsity badminton players (from left) Jessica Gomez, Shannon Pollard, Jenna Pasko, Cassie Breshock, Jhennie Corpuz and Andriana Johnson. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
TOP SOUTHLAND TEAMS
(in alphabetical order)
Andrew: The graduation of state medalist Renee Olson stings, but coach Mandee Wettergren looks to reload the powerhouse program around stellar doubles player Shannon Normoyle. Andrew has captured four state titles and hasn’t finished outside the state’s top 10 since 2000.
Lincoln-Way Central: Another contender from the SouthWest Suburban Conference, the Knights are led by No. 1 doubles team Catrina Cimaroli and Jana Mudrock. At singles, Margaret Kolyvas and Maria Brown seem promising. Kolyvas played No. 2 singles last season as a sophomore, and coach Liz Carales called Brown “an unbelievable athlete.”
Lincoln-Way West: The Warriors have improved their state points total every season since their inaugural season. Watch out for singles player Beth Heise and the doubles tandem of Lizzie Bradshaw and Emily Keith.
Lockport: The Porters, reigning SouthWest Suburban Blue champs, bring back one of the better singles duos in the area in seniors Kelly Miotti and Sara Napoli. The pair return with state meet experience.
Reavis: Doubles players Marissa Mangala and Dena Zayed are among the best in Illinois and finished fourth in the state in ’12. Coach Cyndi Dyrkacz said the pair has a “great chemistry on and off the court. Each one of them knows exactly what the other one is doing and where they are on the court.”
Sandburg: The Eagles, coming off a 17th-place finish at state, will look to seniors Sarah Crowley, Jenna Ciaccio and Ashley Godawski. Coach Kimberly Huelsman expects to mesh young talent around Crowley, the lone returnee with state experience.
T.F. South: The Rebels return all 10.5 points from last season’s state tournament, most of any team in the state. Their returning doubles teams finished in the top 10.
Updated: April 15, 2013 6:20AM
Some teams run from pressure or expectations.
T.F. South isn’t some team.
“I like putting them under pressure,” Rebels coach Bob Tengstrand said in the midst of a friendly debate with standout junior Jessica Gomez. “It’s a life skill they have to learn. We have a saying, ‘We might not win state, but it sure would be fun if we did.’ ”
“That’s cocky!” Gomez said. “I don’t want to put that on our shirts.”
The pair might differ on suitable swagger, but there’s no disputing the talent at T.F. South. The Rebels bring back every major piece from a team that went 19-0 in duals and finished sixth in the state.
Gomez, a likely contender for the singles crown, is a prime reason for the team’s excitement. Before the season started, Gomez made a statement at the Purdue Open, downing the 2011 state champ, New Trier graduate Hannah Doren, 21-17, 21-4.
“She’s probably twice as good as she was last year, and we thought she was great last year as a sophomore,” Tengstrand said. “She’s the engine to the train, without a doubt.”
Born in the U.S., Gomez lived in Guadalajara as a child. She moved back to Illinois when she was 6 years old and picked up a racket for the first time as a freshman. She originally was slated to play doubles but tirelessly worked on her technique. Last season, Gomez was one of just three non-seniors to be seeded in the top 16 at the state tournament.
“I’m not going to say I’m the best, but I think I work harder than everyone,” Gomez said. “And it’s not just the time I put it in, it’s the way I work. Some people run three miles. I sprint three miles.”
Behind Gomez at No. 2 singles is Andriana Johnson. A state qualifier in badminton and tennis, Johnson is considered one of the best athletes on the team.
“It’s kind of unbelievable to me because I sit there and think we have one of the best teams in the state,” Johnson said. “To be a senior on it, it’s exciting.”
The Rebels’ depth is especially evident in doubles. The combo of Shannon Pollard and Jenna Pasko were third in state last season, while and Cassie Breshock and Jhennie Corpuz were ninth. Tengstrand calls them 1A and 1B.
“It’s a major advantage that we have two great doubles teams and we have two great singles players,” Pollard said. “We boost everyone up. We’re all getting better because we’re all at a really good, high level.”
“We all know each other, go out to eat together. We’re really close,” Pasko added.
The quartet did seem amused by the intensity of their scrimmages. They pointed to Tengstrand as an instigator to the rivalry, but also see the advantages of top-notch in-house competition.
“They are the standard of who we have to beat,” Breshock said of Pollard and Pasko. “Every day we see our competition in practice.”
“We have an advantage over all the teams that lost players,” Corpuz said. “We have the experience. We know the pressure of the state meet.”
That veteran mind-set has T.F. South thinking big.
“Last year, we went undefeated, won five invites, conference, sectionals,” Tengstrand said. “This year, we’re not even focusing on those things. We’re looking at state.”
With that roster, the rest of the state is looking right back.