Lyons Township High School’s Elle Ownby is returning to the state badminton meet with plenty of company.
The lone returning 2022 qualifier is among six qualifiers – both doubles teams and singles players – after the Lions won their IHSA Sectional on May 4 for their first sectional title since 2013 and only their fourth ever.
The IHSA state finals are May 12-13 at DeKalb High School.
“My whole team deserves it. It was just awesome that we can all go as a team and celebrate this win,” said Ownby, who also captured the sectional doubles title with senior Aggie Driscoll.
“The first time I played with her, she’s definitely a great match,” Ownby said. “I was just set on her. It’s the best feeling because, obviously, senior year I want to end on a good note. Junior year was great. Senior year is even better.”
Top-four sectional finishers advance to state. Senior Sofia Garcia and sophomore Mia Graziano were third in doubles and junior Julie Senffner and sophomore Audrey Shell were third and fourth in singles.
It’s the first time all four LTHS entries have qualified for state since 2010.
Under coach Sue McLenahan, the Lions’ 2013 and third-place 2014 state teams advanced both singles players and one doubles team. Those lineups included three-time state singles champion Stephanie Lin, now an assistant coach.
“That’s the goal, to get as many to advance as possible. We are ecstatic that they’ll all get to be together there,” McLenahan said.
Ownby and Driscoll (20-11) won their three matches in two games, including 21-17, 21-8 in the final.
They opened the season going 6-0 at the Hersey Tournament and never looked back. They both played at the 2022 sectional but with different senior partners. Driscoll came one victory from qualifying for state.
“We were so close to [qualifying in 2022], but going senior year and placing first overall on top of that is just really nice,” Driscoll said.
Garcia and Graziano (13-22) also are a new doubles team. Garcia hoped to be part of the 2022 sectional lineup but was sidelined by a mid-season foot injury.
“State is kind of the ultimate goal as a player so it’s rewarding,” Garcia said. “I’ve been part of the program ever since I was a young kid, playing LT badminton through summer camps, so just to be playing senior year [at state], this will be my last time.”
Graziano, the 2022 MVP for the sophomores, is among the team’s best smashers.
“It’s really rewarding because I just started last year. It’s a long way from last year,” Graziano said.
Senffner (16-16) and Shell (17-17) had an interesting third-place match against each other. Senffner won 21-14, 21-6.
“Honestly, it was more of a fun game. Serious, but we definitely had our funny moments,” said Senffner, the Lions’ No. 1 singles player. “For the entire year I was practicing, and my whole goal was to get to state so [qualifying] means a lot of determination.”
Shell lost in the sectional semifinals to Urbana junior Andrea Li, the defending state champion. This season’s No. 5 singles player was near the bottom of the freshman lineup in 2022.
“I worked really, really hard to make it here to be able to play on the sectional lineup. I’m very grateful,” Shell said. “We all worked really hard. We were very lucky but we all put in the work hoping that this happened.”