By Marty Farmer
The Riverside-Brookfield High School badminton team has already notched lopsided victories over Fenton, Argo and Lemont and won the Leyden Invitational plus its own invite this season.
However, for all their early success this spring, the Bulldogs are self-aware.
"We've always had a pretty good record since I've been here, but it's not like we are playing the toughest teams and invites," third-year coach James Tsenes said. "We're the type of team that should be able to beat all the teams like us, but we still can't compete with the best teams in the area. That's a whole different ballgame."
Nevertheless, the RBHS program has shown steady progress under Tsenses. Interest in the program is trending up.
"We had 12 girls at tryouts my first year, then 40 the next year, and we had in the 70s this season," Tsenes said. "The competition at practice gets better when the numbers are up. Our freshman class this year is very good, too, so the future looks bright."
A senior-laden group anchors the varsity end of the program. Abigail Swiatek and Claire Kutay are the No. 1 and No. 2 singles players, respectively, while Jane McLaren and Isabel Hughes are the top doubles teams. All four players are seniors with multiple years of varsity experience.
Junior Alexandria Manning is another solid singles player in the lineup.
"Our strength is definitely our experience," Tsenses said. "The girls have played in a lot of varsity matches, at times against some of the best girls in the state of Illinois. They know what it's like to compete. None of these girls had badminton experience before high school, but they work hard and they are great girls, super students."
Many of the varsity players are also good all-around athletes. For example, Swiatek and Manning play volleyball and Hughes was a sectional qualifier in golf last fall.
The Bulldogs won their own tourney on March 30 as all nine players earned a medal.
"The girls played really well," Tsenes said. "I think after winning the Leyden Invite, the girls had expectations of winning our home invite. It's a nice situation because we push our players hard, but we want them to have fun and enjoy badminton."
The Bulldogs' approach is working well based on first- and third-place finishes at the conference tournament the past two years. Although the conference has disbanded this year, RBHS remains focused on winning as matches as possible during the regular season and state playoffs.
"We have tough matches coming up against OPRF, Glenbard South and Wheaton North," Tsenes said. "We'll know more about our team after those matches. I hope we can also qualify some players in our sectional to go downstate, but it won't be easy. We are in one of the toughest sectionals with the Naperville and Hinsdale schools, plus Oak Park and Lyons Township every year."
RBHS host Glenbard South and Wheaton North in a triangular on Wednesday, April 3. The Bulldogs' only other remaining home match is against Morton on Monday, April 8 at 4:30 p.m.