Aamina Qureshi

In hopes of returning to the state badminton meet, Lyons Township High School senior Aamina Qureshi has tried preparing for the often challenging schedule.

“I’ve built a better sense of mind. A lot of state is waiting,” Qureshi said. “I only played four matches, but it lasted from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. I’ve built a stronger mind and better stamina to get through all of that.”

Qureshi will have a plenty of good things on her mind this trip. Not only did she qualify again, but so did three teammates with top-four finishes at the IHSA Lincoln-Way Central Sectional on May 5. The IHSA state championships begin May 12 at Hinsdale South.

Qureshi (29-11) finished second in singles and senior Katie Vespa (17-11) was fourth. The doubles team of senior Marris Carli and junior Elle Ownby (12-12) was second.

Last season, Qureshi was the Lions’ only state qualifier and with COVID restrictions, singles and doubles were played on separate days. Qureshi also will see friends from other schools who have risen to varsity and qualified as well.

Qureshi and Vespa joked that Vespa was at state last year, too, but with an official IHSA tag designating her as “warmup partner.”

“Now she gets a participant [tag],” Qureshi said. “It’s going to be both [singles and doubles] at the same time, so we’ll be able to see how Marris and Elle do and they’ll see how we do.”

Qureshi was a top-16 state finisher in 2021, going 2-2. Last week, she lost the sectional final 21-3, 21-4 to University High (Urbana) sophomore Andrea Li, the 2021 state runner-up.

“I would like to say that I am good, but she’s very, very talented,” Qureshi said. “I’m trying to get to Saturday [at state]. I hope to at least beat last year’s (2-2) record.”

Last year, Carli came one sectional consolation doubles victory from reaching state.

Carli and Ownby became the Lions’ No. 1 doubles team halfway through this season. After a first-round forfeit May 5, they won their semifinal 24-22 in the third set to secure a state berth and not worry about surviving through the backdraw.

“I was sweating and shaking. I’m so glad we won because that was a relief at the end,” Ownby said.

“It was definitely the most exciting [match we’ve had],” Carli said. “We really just want to keep playing our best. I’m just really hoping that it’s one of those days where we’re feeling good.”

Vespa’s mother, Cindy (Hughes), also was a state qualifier for the Lions and their MVP in 1985. In her consolation bracket match to qualify for state, Vespa won the third set 21-17 after falling behind early.

“I was like, ‘I’m going. This is the year. It’s senior year. I can do this,’” Vespa said. “I’m just going to try as hard as I can and we’ll see where that goes. I’m just proud to be able to go and make it.”

Senior Andja Vojinovic and junior Aggie Driscoll came one doubles victory from qualifying, losing their state-qualifying match 10-21, 21-15, 21-7.