By Marty Farmer
Other than playing on a club team, there is no badminton in college sports for women.
Consequently, the seniors on the OPRF badminton team are essentially nearing the end of their competitive days hitting a shuttlecock across a net. So the state playoffs loom even more important, with sectionals running May 4-6 and the state finals May 12-13 in Charleston.
OPRF tuned up for the postseason at the West Suburban Conference Silver Division tournament. OPRF finished fifth overall, with Maria Krunic and Gabby Simone taking first place in No. 1 doubles.
"For a lot of these girls, it's really their last chance to play badminton," OPRF coach Paul Wright said. "We want them feeling positive about what they are getting into in terms of the state tournament."
Last year, the Huskies qualified all six athletes (two singles, two doubles teams) for the state tournament for the first time since badminton became an IHSA sport in 1976. OPRF tied conference rival Hinsdale Central and Fremd (9 points each) for fifth at state.
"The badminton program is on the upswing," Wright said. "We have more kids coming to our camps than ever. We offer a great fun camp with the players getting time on task to learn the game. Our coaches are great, too, so I just see it getting bigger and better."
Additionally, singles player Rei Uemaki (a foreign exchange student from Japan) became the first state medalist for the Huskies since 1984 and tied the highest finish (fifth place) in school history. She finished 27-1 last season.
Senior Maya Trinka (28-6) also performed well at state, winning four of six matches in singles last year.
"Maya and Rei were huge assets for our program," Wright said. "Having two great players like that in practice really helped the other players. Their speed and intensity during a match is hard to replicate, but it prepared our other players well to face elite competition."
As expected this season, OPRF has been about a .500 team sans Uemaki and Trinka with dual match wins against Downers Grove South, Glenbard West, Riverside-Brookfield and Leyden. On the flipside, the Huskies lost to Downers Grove North, Hinsdale Central, York, and Lyons Township.
"For the past 10 years, York, Hinsdale Central and Downers North all have had players finish in the top 10 in state in singles or doubles," Wright said. "It's really nice to have hard matches in your conference. The girls improve by facing great players."
The Huskies have also recorded a trio of third-place finishes at the Hersey, T.F. South and Conant Invitationals.
Entering the postseason, the Huskies are led by senior captain/three-year varsity player Krunic, fellow senior Halley Bergen and juniors Maeve Heflin and Simone.
"These girls are great because they work hard like Huskies and battle during games," Wright said. "We have seen major growth this year because of the mentality. We're going to give it our all and really think about the game of badminton. When you see a team having growth, it's exciting."
Julia Krause, who suffered an injury early this season, has returned to offer depth for OPRF. Bella Perez also had an early-season injury but she's out for the season.
OPRF advances two doubles team to state tournament
For the sixth straight year, the Huskies are heading downstate to compete in the badminton state tournament. The doubles teams of Maria Krunic/Gabby Simone and Halley Bergen/Maeve Heflin placed second and third, respectively, at the New Trier Sectional on Saturday, May 6
Krunic and Simone advanced to the sectional final via a bye and two impressive wins at New Trier. The Huskies lost in the final to New Trier sophomores Tess Fallon and Holly Fessler 21-15, 20-22 and 21-15.
Bergen and Heflin won four or five matches to finish third.
Last year, OPRF tied conference rival Hinsdale Central and Fremd (9 points each) to finish fifth at the state tournament. The Huskies also won their first sectional title since 1999.