Devils badminton nets fifth at state

Central's program registers fifth top-five finish in nine tries, gymansts also compete

Despite some tough luck, the resilient Hinsdale Central badminton team earned a top-five spot at the IHSA state final tournament May 12-13.

Overcoming early matches against top-ranked players and a doubles draw that forced one Red Devil team to oust the other, the squad placed fifth, the program's best showing since back-to-back fifth-place finishes in 2018 and 2019.

Head coach Katie Maley said her players served up a stellar performance at the tournament hosted by DeKalb High School.

"We did really well to make top five among some really good teams this year," Maley said of Central's 9.5 points, tying with sister school Hinsdale South.

Those good teams included perennial powerhouses Stevenson, champions with 16.5 points, and co-runners-up Neuqua Valley and Fremd, both amassing 15.5 points.

Maley said top five was the team's preseason goal, but the brackets put that aspiration to the test.

"We did get a tough draw," remarked Maley, noting how both doubles teams had to face Stevenson in third round matches. Central's duo of juniors Rachele Cameli and Maria Jiao emerged victorious, winning the last two sets after dropping the first.

"That was really exciting," Maley said. "When Maria and Rachele are playing as one, they're pretty unbeatable. They just are truly each other's shadow on the court know where each other is going."

The pair, who led the Devils with 4 points, faced Fremd's top team in the quarterfinal, falling just short in another three-set battle. To add to the misfortune, the loss set up a consolation match against their teammates, sophomores Hannah Fang and Tiffany Fu.

"We knocked ourselves out and lost our ability to get more points in the tournament," Maley said, adding she plans to petition the IHSA to prevent same school matches until the medal rounds.

On maternity leave last spring, Maley relished shepherding the younger players through

this state final.

"This was my first time coaching either of the doubles teams, so that was really fun," she said.

Fang and Fu earned three points before elimination. Singles players and seniors Jessica Han and Ivy Shen garnered 2 points and a half point, respectively.

Han, playing in her fourth state meet, had to get resourceful after an equipment malfunction.

"My racket broke somehow, and I had to borrow Ivy's racket and still - in my definition of the word - slayed!" she said.

Cameli recalled the disappointment at losing a tough match to the eventual state runner-up doubles team.

"Ten minutes later we had to prepare to compete again in the consolation bracket," she said. "The physical and mental challenges of competing at that high of a level over eight matches in 48 hours were all memories I will never forget."

Maley said the girls were in a good frame of mind after impressive conference and sectional titles.

"The girls who qualified for state, they pretty much won almost every tournament," she said. "They're all really smart players, all have really good court vision and mental toughness so they can perform in these high-pressure situations"

Those traits helped stoke a strong 8-point start on Friday.

"We really ended day one playing the best of their ability," Maley commented. "Our motto was: Start day two the way we finished day one."

Han said staying at a hotel for the meet (instead of going home as in past years) was initially a "scary" prospect until discovering the joy of hang time with teammates. That camaraderie proved to be a key factor.

"I was having a tough time trying to beat my opponent, but hearing my teammates cheer invigorated me with the power of friendship and pushed me through," she said.

Fang hinted that off-court fun during the tournament was just as memorable as the competition.

"I found the microwaveable pad Thai that Jess and Ivy hid from me and ate it all," she revealed.

Shen, too, came home with special memories - and merchandise.

"We all went to the arcade in a restaurant we were at, and I was able to catch four ducks from the claw machine," Shen said.

The experience the underclassmen now have under their collective belt will pay future dividends, Maley noted.

"I'm very proud of them. Next year we'll be back with some veterans next season," she said.

As for the departing veteran Han, she looks back wistfully

but appreciative.

"It feels weird to think that this was my last chance playing badminton as a Red Devil," Han said. "The experience was pretty impactful on my life - unforgettable bonds."

Gymnasts compete at state

Three Central gymnasts qualified for the boys state final May 12-13 at Hoffman Estates High School.

Freshman Elias Argyris placed ninth in the vault competition and 16th in the all-around. Junior Marc Cihlar was 26th in the all-around. Junior Nikolas Theotikos competed in the pommel horse event.

Argyris, who led the vault event after the first day, said he learned a lot.

"It takes a lot of time and dedication to succeed in gymnastics," he said. "Next year I'm hoping to get harder skills."

Cihlar said his performance fell short of his expectations but that participating in the state final was rewarding.

"The experience was great. You could hear cheering from all over, and what was amazing were the athletes from other schools cheering each other on as well," Cihlar said. "Next year, I'm hoping to place at state and not fall like I did this year."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean