Exciting times – it’s the first in-person state meet of the school year – badminton holding its ultimate competition at Hinsdale South. Singles competition on day one and doubles on day two. Naperville North, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley all represented in the singles quarterfinals.
Let’s open right there with Neuqua’s Gowri Salem, taking on Hinsdale South’s Maggie Chen. Salem having to range in twice to start before putting Chen on her heels and claiming the point.
But the home town Hornet is too much for the Wildcat in the quarterfinal match – Chen blasts a shot Salem can’t return, winning in straight sets.
Moving courts, now we find Waubonsie’s Sonali Manoharan in a tight battle with freshman Andrea Li from Urbana. The two exchanging short jabs near the net before extending outward… the Warrior not only trading punches… but throws a backhand shot to end the rally.
A little later on, Li pushing Manoharan to the back endline before returning with an absolute rocket. Li wins the opening set 21-14.
Second set now, Manoharan with her back up against the wall and this… this is a really fun rally. Not only do we get some rapid fire, but Manoharan stays composed and claims the point and second set 25-23.
To the potentially decisive third set in their quarterfinal bout… and Li is all over the place! She has the Warrior ranging left and right, back to front and ends it with a drop shot, as she advances to the semifinals.
That means Manoharan drops to the state badminton consolation bracket – which is where Naperville North’s Shannon Xu already is – and she’s scratching names off her list including Stevenson’s Ema Akutsu.
But first up a matchup between the Wildcat Salem and the Huskie Xu. And this… this is going to be goooood.
These two pretty familiar with each other – Salem going with the drop shot, which doesn’t work at first… but she gives it another go and claims the point.
Later in the first set, Xu not only works to earn the point but let’s out a rally cry – taking the first set 21-14.
Although Salem would win the second set 21-17, Xu bounces back in the third, showing off incredible athleticism like this… winning in three sets. A big half point for the Huskies, but Xu would bow out to Kathryn Chappel from St. Charles East in the next round.
Singles Semi Finals
Back to the championship bracket with another Naperville North star – Bhaavya Manikonda, taking on Maggie Chen in the semi-finals. And it’s the Hornet taking the early point here.
Still in the first set, Manikonda showing why she’s the top overall seed in the tournament – demonstrating a bevy of shots and then tucking the birdie in the back corner for the point.
After claiming the first by a 21-17 tally, Manikonda up to her old tricks… forcing Chen to cover a ton of ground, and then smashing home the point. On to the championship game she goes.
Singles Consolation Finals
Manoharan – who gets past Jade Huang from Glenbrook North to reach the final matchup in the consolation bracket. Here’s the Warrior matching up with Chappel and taking a strong point.
Although both sets were extremely close, the Waubonsie Valley Warrior puts up a great effort, taking home fifth place, winning by 22-20 and 21-19 scores. The senior also took home the 5th place medal in 2019.
Last but not least… actually, the most important matchup of the entire tournament – it’s the championship bout between North’s Bhaavya Manikonda and Urbana’s Andrea Li. And it’s the Huskie off to a strong start
Late stages of the first set and this is one of the sequences that kind of makes you nod… you know, like… yeah, these are the two best high school badminton players Illinois has to offer. And this time around it’s Li taking the point after both athletes empty their tool belt.
Now with a chance to secure a 1-0 set lead, Manikonda uses a pretty drop shot to catch Li off guard – and wins it 21-14
Second set… bit of a different story. The Urbana player seizing control and battling to hang in there with the top overall seed. In the end, Li has enough in the tank to win the second set 22-20… and so we go to a third.
From there, Manikonda recaptures momentum, swinging it emphatically in her favor – the wide array of shots overwhelms her counterpoint – putting her on the verge of the state title.
And the Huskie doesn’t let it slip out of her grasp. In the most bizarre badminton season in the history of the state series, the Naperville North Huskie – Bhaavya Manikonda wins state for the second time – earning the title with scores of 21-14, 20-22, and 21-10.
On to the second day of competition and we begin with the double quarterfinals. Neuqua Valley duo Bhavi Barnwal and Helen Zhao taking on Angelia Berti and Lily McCain from Hinsdale Central. A pair of sectional champions going head to head. But it’s the Wildcats who move along in straight sets 21-16, 21-11.
Another doubles quarter features Metea Valley’s Sophia Wang and Vivian Kok. The Mustangs face Yejee Lee and Elle Zheng from Fremd, one of the teams hunting for a state trophy. A competitive back and forth match goes in favor of Metea, who advance to the semi finals 21-14, 22-20.
Doubles Consolation Quarterfinals
Naperville North in first place as a team at this point, however both doubles teams in the consolation bracket, so each win is only worth a half point and a loss means elimination. Connie Lu and Sarah Yeh looking to stay alive against Berti and McCain from Hinsdale Central as the Huskies earn a first set point.
But the Red Devil duo too much to handle, defeating the Huskies 21-12, 21-15. But Lu and Yeh are able to pick up three key points for their team on the day.
Doubles Semi Finals
The first doubles semi final has Kok and Wang from Metea against Benna Li and Jyotsna Harikrishna from Stevenson. The Patriot pairing has been rolling through the bracket and that trend continues in the semi finals. Stevenson wins 21-12, 21-8 in straight sets as the Mustangs head to the third place match.
The other semi finals features Barnwal and Zhao from Neuqua Valley against the other Stevenson doubles team, Shibani Ram and Emily Hu. A tough task ahead, but the Wildcats get off to a good start, taking the first two points of the game.
But Stevenson just too strong, most teams struggle to even get to double digits against them as it will be an all Stevenson doubles championship match.
Doubles Third Place
So it’s Metea Valley vs Neuqua Valley in the third place match. The Wildcats sit tied for third with Fremd in the team standings while the Mustangs are in 7th. Metea takes the opening set in a close one 21-18.
These teams know each other well, both of them very talented and have sectional championship medals to prove it. The Wildcats come back and even things up by winning set two 21-14.
In set three, the Mustangs retake control and take down their DVC rival. With the 21-13 third set win, Sophia Wang and Vivian Kok tie the best ever state finish for a Metea doubles team, earning the third place medal.
Doubles Consolation Semi Final
The consolation semi finals begin as Naperville North has 17 team points. Stevenson has 16.5 points and is guaranteed at least one full point because they have both teams in the championship match. So Rosana Liang and Emily Shih must win this match against Yejee Lee and Elle Zheng from Fremd to clinch at least a share of first place at state badminton.
The Huskies come out firing, each girl doing her part as Liang gets the drop shot to take set one 21-15.
But Lee and Zheng are far from pushovers, the Fremd team seizes control in the second set and cruises 21-9 to force a tie breaker.
The third set is back and forth, but North goes on a run and looks to close out the victory. Eventually Emily Shih drops a deep back hand just over the net and Naperville North takes the third set. Elation from the Huskies who will win at least a share of the state championship with a chance to win outright in the consolation finals.
The doubles championship lacks the traditional pomp and circumstance because the doubles crown belongs to Stevenson no matter what, but in the end it’s Shibani Ram & Emily Hu who defeat their teammates 21-17, 21-10 to win the title. A very impressive feat for Stevenson doubles.
Doubles Consolation Final
It’s strange that the consolation championship in a way means more than the actual state badminton championship, but here we are. Liang and Shih against Berti and McCain from Hinsdale Central. Naperville North with 17.5 points and Stevenson with 17.5. A win for the Huskies gives them the state title outright.
And the North girls are fired up from the start. The Huskies take control and win the opening set 21-10.
Coach Heather Schild anxiously watching on, as the Neuqua and Metea players join the rest of the Huskies cheering along.
Match point for the Huskies in set two and a smash from Emily Shih is too hot to handle. Naperville North wins the 2021 state badminton championship! The first title for the program since sharing first place with Stevenson in 2012. Stevenson finishes in second while Neuqua Valley ties with Fremd for third place.
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