If winning builds confidence, then the Riverside-Brookfield High School badminton team is in good shape.
The Bulldogs will need all the confidence they can get as they head into the second half of the season, which features the stiffest competition.
“The matches that we have early in the year are a little bit easier matches, to say the least, against teams that are more on our level, but now we start playing the tougher teams,” RBHS coach Tom Rocco said. “We’re trying to ramp the competition up. Granted, we’re probably going to get our butt kicked a little bit here and there, but it exposes them to things we can work on in practice.”
RBHS has rolled through the competition in impressive fashion. The Bulldogs won the Leyden Invite, finished fourth at the Glenbard East Invite and are 4-0 in dual meets, winning 50 of 60 matches.
The team’s most recent triumph came Saturday at the RB Invite, which the Bulldogs won for the second straight year. The competition was supposed to include four teams, but Homewood-Flossmoor did not show up, leaving the Bulldogs to vie with Morton and Leyden.
The result was impressive as RBHS won all 14 of its matches. Leyden was second with four points and Morton had three.
“I’m pretty proud of everybody because everybody has put in a lot of effort,” said RBHS senior Alex Bakalich, who won the No. 1 singles title Saturday. “[Winning the title] is really cool.”
Bakalich is in her third year on varsity. This is her second season at No. 1 singles and she has a 7-4 record. The early results have her mentally prepared to face some of the toughest players in the state, including two-time state champion Stephanie Lin of Lyons Township, whom she will face in a dual meet on April 20.
Senior Erika Sterner has moved up a spot from last year and is 10-2 at No. 2 singles, while the No. 1 doubles team of seniors Miranda Molina and Katie Buckley and the No. 2 doubles squad of senior Clare Bartolone and junior Lauren Paisker have also done well.
“It’s been really fun and it’s been really cool to see how the team has been improving,” Sterner said. “It is helping us prepare for harder teams.”
Molina and Buckley dropped the first set of their match against Morton but rallied to win 17-21, 21-10, 21-16. Bartolone and Paisker did not lose a set, while the No. 3 doubles team of seniors Michelle Morris and Libby Creek won both of their matches in straight sets.
“Our goal is to get at least one or two girls downstate,” Rocco said. “That’s our hope, but our sectional is always tough and it’s going to be just as brutal this year. We’re going to be the 18th or 19th seed.”
RBHS has not had a state qualifier since 2010. Only the top four singles players and top four doubles teams qualify from each sectional, so the road will be tough. The Bulldogs did not win a match at the sectional meet last year and captured only two at the 2013 sectional.
“The No. 1 doubles team and the 1 and 2 singles girls I think all have a really good shot,” Rocco said. “They’ve got to play their best matches so we’re steadily trying to get that.”
Team chemistry has played just as important a role as talent in the early success.
“We support each other a lot and kind of help each other improve individually,” Sterner said. “Even if you lose, we still encourage improvement in each match.
“Definitely I think we’ll have more of a chance [in the postseason] and at least hopefully get further along in the sectional matches than we did last year.”