An optimist might believe that Evanston’s girls badminton team will be in the hunt for a state tournament trophy for the first time since 1997 this spring.
But ETHS head coach Karilyn Joyce is more realist than optimist, and she’ll settle for an extended stay in Charleston — site of the Illinois High School Association state finals — for a team that returns four state qualifiers from a year ago.
Seniors Keegan Joyce, Tess Brieva, Rebecca Conover and Sarah Felvey are the headliners for a veteran squad and they’re seeking to do some damage at the top level before their careers end.
Experience is critical to the success of any badminton team, especially when you consider that most players still aren’t exposed to the game before they enter high school and they have to learn on the fly. With 8 seniors on the roster — and with promising juniors Sonia Sood and Samantha Mulica poised to move up the ETHS singles ladder following successful varsity seasons as sophomores — the Wildkit girls will have a definite advantage, both in Central Suburban League and postseason competition.
“This is the most depth I’ve ever had as a coach,” Joyce said. “Having that kind of experience is more important than ever, because a lot of the players down south (south suburbs) are starting to play a lot younger now. It’s nice to have had a lot of these girls for 3 years, and I do have high expectations for them at the end of the season.
“But we’re really not aiming THAT high. We’re just looking to get everyone to State in singles and doubles and stay down there 2 nights instead of 1. That would be nice and big for us. It’s a fun trip and they get hyped up to take an out-of-town trip like that.”
A 2-night stay could mean multiple qualifiers for the final rounds on Saturday, and that could put the Wildkits in a position to bring back one of three trophies awarded to the top placing teams. Evanston has scored top 10 state finishes in 2004, 2003, 1999 and 1998 after claiming the 3rd place trophy in 1997.
One drawback to having so many seniors on the roster is that college visits have prevented Joyce from seeing her squad at full strength for many preseason practices. She’ll have a better idea of where the Kits stand after Tuesday’s early-season CSL showdown with traditional power New Trier at Beardsley Gym.
“We’re going to look at a lot of girls in both singles and doubles,” Joyce explained. “What’s nice is that all of the older girls can play either singles or doubles. With the juniors, they’re still learning to understand how to play doubles in some cases. There could even be a chance that we put Keegan (Joyce, the coach’s daughter and last year’s No. 1 singles player) at doubles this year if others can step up in singles.”
Brieva and Felvey will likely be back together after qualifying for State last year, while Conover’s doubles partner, Emily Stover, has graduated. Senior Clara Gruger was Evanston’s other singles entrant at the 2014 sectional tournament but also could end up focusing on doubles.
Sood (No. 10 singles) and Mulica (No. 12) both captured CSL singles crowns on the lower half of the ladder last spring and are poised to move up and offer serious challenges to the returning veterans.
Others who figure to contribute include seniors Sasha Charles, Alison Swartout and Betsy Meenan, plus juniors Elizabeth Jolie, Miranda Metz, Jorie Minsky, and Anuradha Raife.
“Sonia is the one who has really impressed me,” said the Evanston coach. “She’s a much stronger singles player now than she was last year. She and Sam both did a lot of training in the off-season and it shows. I think Alison did a great job in the off-season, too.”
Source: ETHS Sports Information