The decision by badminton coaches in charge of the New Trier Featherfest invitational tournament to place both the No. 1 and No. 2 singles and doubles players from each participating school in the same bracket — instead of in separate brackets as in the past — was designed to help create more accurate seeding for sectional tournament play.
It also provided an opportunity for Clara Lynk to prove she could play with the best.
Lynk moved up from the No. 5 slot in Evanston’s singles pecking order to No. 2 for Saturday’s tourney and rose to the occasion despite winning just 1 of her 3 matches. All 3 of her matches came against players seeded No. 1 at their respective schools including the eventual champion (and last year’s 4th place finisher at the Illinois High School Association state finals), Rachel Ye of Palatine Fremd.
Teammates Monica Hill, Emily Ho and Ana Glassman combined to contribute 7 more singles victories and the Wildkits also scored 4 doubles wins in a format that allowed each of the 16 competing schools to enter 4 singles players and 4 doubles teams each. Evanston placed 11th in the field with 19 points, as Fremd edged host New Trier 54-50 for the team title.
Lynk replaced Ana Bunas — absent like players from many other schools for ACT testing — at the top of the ETHS lineup and will likely focus on doubles by the time postseason play rolls around. But she enjoyed some of her best career moments on the court Saturday at New Trier’s main gym, defeating Jenna Murphy of Lincoln-Way West (11-21, 21-18, 21-14) before losing to Ye (21-8, 21-10) and Hersey’s Susan Ferris (16-21, 21-17, 25-23).
The ETHS senior also discovered an inner reserve of strength she might not have found otherwise in the competitive (but usually genteel) sport, when Ferris challenged her line calls on back-to-back points in the contentious third set of her last match. Lynk stood firm despite Ferris’ arguments and didn’t back down.
“It was even fun for me to stand my ground against her in that match,” said Lynk. “That was very rewarding against ‘mean girl.’
“I wasn’t intimidated today. I knew if I won a match, it would be amazing, but for me it was more about winning points then getting a win. When you play the top players like this, you really have to challenge yourself. You have to pull out a lot more moves . It’s fun to do a move you might not have done before, and it brings out your best.”
“I thought Clara, and all of our girls for that matter, played really well today,” said ETHS head coach Karilyn Joyce. “Clara has consistently played a lot more doubles in tournaments and this is one tough tournament. But I think we have a strong singles lineup this year and I had no problem putting Clara in there. She played extremely well. I knew she could handle it.
“I thought she moved the bird around well. She’s a very smart player, and it showed today with her movement.”
Lynk rode the momentum of a 10-point effort against the formidable Ye in their second round matchup and pressured Ferris to the max, taking an 11-10 lead at the third set changeover and pushing that lead to 14-10 before the Hersey player could get back on track.
Ferris rallied from a 20-17 deficit to knot the score at 20-all, and finally prevailed 25-23 after Lynk fought off three potential match points to stay alive.
“I didn’t give in. I just kept clearing and smashing,” Lynk pointed out with pride. “I knew that I needed to push through and just keep smashing.
“Today was very different for me in one way. Today I used a backhand serve instead of my (usual) forehand. I thought that would be a disadvantage for me, but it turned out that it wasn’t. I got to the point earlier in the week where I just couldn’t control my forehand serves so I switched my grip. I lost 7 points that way when we played New Trier, so that’s why I used the backhand today. I still need to practice it more.”
Although no one specializes in singles or doubles during the dual meet portion of the schedule, Lynk will likely form one of Evanston’s doubles teams for the sectional along with her new partner, Phoebe Porter. Joyce made the decision earlier in the week to break up the doubles pairing of Lynk and Jill Collins and the Wildkit coach is still mulling over doubles options for the future.
“Jill and I just missed getting to State last year, but things were not working out for us this year,” Lynk explained. “We’re two really similar players and usually you need a strong player in back and a finesse player at the net. We’re both good at both (styles of play), so no one was really taking charge. But I like playing doubles more than singles and I know Phoebe and I will make a good team.”
Hill, a junior who holds down the No. 1 singles position for the Kits, scored consecutive victories over Presley Bedno of Carl Sandburg (21-9, 21-12) and Ferris of Hersey (21-19, 21-17) in the play-in portion of the singles tourney, then was eliminated with a three-set loss (7-21, 21-16, 21-14) defeat against Aleksina Jovic of York.
At No. 3 singles, Emily Ho won her pool and then advanced in the winner’s bracket by tripping Fatima Barajas in a 17-21, 21-12, 21-16 showdown. Ho bowed out with a 21-13, 21-13 loss to Deerfield’s Reese Liebman.
The No. 4 doubles team of Jada Hamer and Ashanti Hutchinson also ruled their pool before losing and settling for a split of 4 matches.