Coming off an overwhelmingly successful season, the Lake Forest Scouts varsity badminton team is sending five athletes to state at Eastern Illinois University this weekend. Last week at sectionals, doubles partners Nika Belova and Grace Gescheidle, along with Anisha Paruchuru and Paige Dillow qualified, not to mention Emily Gorczynski, the lone singles player from Lake Forest to make it to state. Before the final matches of the season kick off on Friday, I talked with head coach Nicole Frye ahead of the State championships.
Nika and Emily are both returning to state for the second and third time respectively. What have you seen from both of them over the course of the season that makes you believe they could go further than they did last year?
“Both of them care a lot about improving their skills every single day. Emily is constantly asking about what she needs to work on, or improve on, while Nika is very strategic. She is always thinking and reevaluating the situation she is in. She also loves looking at the background on her opponents before she plays them. They spread that type of mentality to the entire team to make them think in a more focused and strategic way.”
Lake Forest has always seemed to come in as the underdogs to state, but how has that mentality affected the team as they seem to climb up the rankings nearly every year?
“I think it has created more of an excitement and an energy around the tournament. We have made small progresses and I think that being part of a team that keeps that progress going is thrilling. Especially with Emily getting a seeding for the first time in school history, it seemed like the whole team became more excited that they made it on a list of schools that are more than just there to play, but competing for a championship. It comes down to being better than the people across the court from you on that given day in that one match. Anything can happen and the players need to be ready for each round as they come.”
What do you want the team, especially the Sophomores and Juniors who are going to state for the first time, to take away from the tournament when the matches end?
“I want them to take away sense of accomplishment of them just being there. People underestimate how significant it is just to make it state. The athletes who made it are in the top 25% of badminton players in Illinois by making it to the tournament. Realistically, I want them to take away some experience and gain a ambition for them to want to come back next year.”
What do both doubles pairs, along with Emily in singles, have to do in order to play in Saturday’s matches and maybe even sneak their way into the finalist brackets?
“Realistically, Emily might run into trouble in her third round. The player she is projected to play is the second best in Illinois. If she wins the first two matches, then one in consolation, she will play on Saturday. Both of our doubles teams will have a pretty tough draw because they will be going up against seeded teams, however, it is the same case as the singles bracket. If they manage to win their first two and at least a consolation game, then they will play on Saturday.”
Lake Forest badminton had one of their best years this season to date. How do you believe that confidence and momentum will translate into their matches at state?
“At practice it has seemed like they have really tried to narrow their gaze on State. I can tell that they want to be successful on Friday. They don’t want to go just for the sake of going. It either comes from their success or their excitement of the trip and the experience. My hope is that everyone at least gets a win. That would automatically mean that you would be better than half of the teams in the bracket.”
This year, the Lake Forest Scouts varsity badminton team went 12-1-1 and will be sending more athlete’s to state than they ever have before. Last year, the Scouts only managed to score 1.5 points as a team putting them in a tie for 31st place, which was partially due to the fact that only three athletes made it last year. Experience, along with confidence is only going to help the Scouts this weekend. Emily Gorczynski, who will make her third appearance to state said, “I know what to expect and how these players will most likely play. I take the skills and strategies these top players have and incorporate them into my own game. This will hopefully also help me go further in State, since these strategies and skills I experienced myself over the years helped me win many matches.” When asked about how it felt to become the first Scout in school history to be seeded at State, Gorczynski added, “I was really proud and impressed that I was seeded. I honestly wasn’t even thinking that could happen, but it was an extra motivation boost since I was so close to making top 16 last year. Knowing I have this seed, I am going to try my best to make it to the finalist brackets and prove that I earned that seed.”
In the first round of the doubles bracket, Dillow and Parachuru will take on Naperville North, while Belova and Gescheidle will go up against Thornton Fractional South. Over in the Singles bracket, Gorczynski will play Kasia Czepiel from Addison Trail High School. You can follow all the matchups and results here on IHSA’s badminton homepage. The Lake Forest Scouts varsity badminton team looks to put the finishing touches what has been a phenomenal season.