Riverside-Brookfield senior Maggie Shereck clearly remembers her 2016 badminton sectional at Metea Valley.
Shereck’s inspired singles run came one victory from a top-four finish and becoming the Bulldogs’ first state qualifier since 2010.
“I really don’t want that to happen this year,” Shereck said. “Oh yeah, it was great. I completely surprised myself. I now know how I can play. Now I keep on working towards that and wanting to better that.”
New head coach Jim Tsenes and assistant Miguel Romero inherit a senior-heavy lineup with high expectations.
Seniors Carolyn Bartolone and Madi Hornung and junior Vasara Kulbis return from their first sectional competition. Shereck and Bartolone are third-year varsity players.
Other key contributors are seniors Athena Haralambous, Lexi DiNatale, Taylor Rosicky and Molly Roman and junior Natalie Lisle. Four varsity newcomers, juniors Zoe Jacquat and Hailey Paisker and sophomores Abby Swiatek and Claire Kutay, bring even greater depth to the lineup.
The Bulldogs are 3-0 in duals with an invite championship. At Saturday’s annual five-team home invite, they finished second to Wheeling.
Swiatek (9-4) won No. 3 singles. Bartolone and Paisker (No. 1 doubles) and Hornung and Roman (No. 3 doubles) and were second and Kulbis (No. 2 singles) and Lisle and Jacquat (No. 2 doubles) were third.
“It feels good. We have a lot of newcomers and the seniors are getting more and more experience. (Our start is) not too much of a surprise,” Bartolone said. “(The coaches are) working us hard, which is good. We’re doing a lot more drills and conditioning. They seem really excited to be here. They’ve been really positive.”
Tsenes was an assistant badminton coach at Morton the past three seasons. He previously was Morton’s varsity baseball coach and a varsity boys soccer assistant.
“(The players have) told me they’re working harder than they’ve ever worked. Our practice has tempo in it, where they’re constantly moving,” Tsenes said. “I never asked them (their 2016 lineup positions) until a couple of weeks into the season. I wanted to be able to figure it out for myself.”
The Bulldogs opened by beating Fenton 15-0 and Shepard 9-6 after losing 12-3 in 2016.
Then came winning the Leyden Invite March 17. Shereck (No. 1 singles), Bartolone and Paisker and Hornung and Roman won their flights.
“Last year we got dead last, but this year we went out and won the invite,” Kulbis said. “We literally went from zero to hero. Our team completely transformed, like a different mindset.”
Another sweet victory was 12-3 at home over Morton March 20.
“(It was) because both of our coaches are gym teachers at Morton. They were talking smack and stuff so it’s kind of nice to come out and beat them,” Hornung said.
“There’s so many new people bringing their own, different energy together with the old varsity players. Things are really starting to click.”
The 2016 Bulldogs finished third at the Independents Conference Meet. At sectionals, Bartolone and Hornung played doubles after being paired late in the regular season. Kulbis was the other singles entry.
Shereck lost her decisive match 21-8, 21-7 to Metea’s Moriah Gau, who went 3-2 at state.
“We talk about sectionals a lot,” Shereck said. “This part of the season is all about making smart moves for sectionals, what (position) you think you can do best at.”