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Oswego East's Hwang finishes among top 16 at badminton state tournament

by Christine Bolin Dascher

5/22/2014

Leena Hwang, a junior on the Oswego East badminton team, accomplished getting to the second day of the state tournament, which took place on the campus of Eastern Illinois University last Friday and Saturday.

Hwang ended up going 3-2 - including a 2-1 showing on the first day - to finish among the top 16 in the state tournament.

"The goal was for Leena to get to the second day, where anything can happen and have a shot at placing," Oswego East head coach Marko Jurkovic said. "We came up a little short of placing, but being in the final 16 and being a part of that experience was a great accomplishment, and I was extremely proud of her."

Rival Oswego sent two doubles teams to the state tournament, but neither duo of juniors Annie Fish/Alisa Meurer or junior Cali Bonie/senior Olivia Lewis made it past the first day of competition.

"They got a taste for what it's like to compete at state," Oswego head coach Scott Freischlag said. "There was a lot of excitement for them to accomplish their goals and dreams."

In the first round, Hwang defeated her opponent from Wheeling, 21-12, 21-9. In the second round, she posted a 19-21, 21-18, 21-15 victory over her opponent from Sandburg. In the third round, her opponent from Downers Grove North won, 21-19, 21-19.

"The match against the No. 8 seed from Sandburg really stood out to me," Jurkovic said. "After winning her first match easily and losing the first game to the Sandburg girl (Ashley Godawski), Leena stayed focused and took down one of the best players in the state. It was a defining moment on Leena's part, just letting other schools know she was a threat. It also helped with her confidence and knowing she could compete at an elite level as well."

Hwang started Saturday with a 22-20, 12-21, 21-13 victory over her opponent from Maine West but fell, 21-13, 21-13 to her opponent, Jessica Hu from Naperville North. Hu ended up placing fifth overall in the state.

Jurkovic anticipates an even better showing from Hwang next year.

"For a kid who picks up a badminton racket a month before our season starts and to do the things she does it is truly amazing," Jurkovic said.

"Leena has a lot of natural ability and does some things you can't teach but is a testament to that. Leena made a lot of history this year as the first (Southwest Prairie Conference) player to ever take first at singles at sectionals, along with being the first SPC player ever to play on the second day of state and finish in the top 16. The sky is the limit for her next year, and placing in the top six next year is the goal."

As for Oswego, Fish/Meurer lost in the first round to their opponents from Neuqua Valley (21-15, 21-13), followed by the 21-16, 21-17 loss to their opponents from Maine South.

"They had fun, and it was a good learning experience for two juniors," Freischlag said. "They opened up with two competitive teams, and unfortunately, things didn't fall their way."

Bonie/Lewis lost in the first round to their opponents from Willowbrook (21-15, 21-12), followed by the 21-6, 21-7 loss to their opponents from Downers Grove North.

Bonie was an alternate after senior Sydney Blount fell ill on the way to state and was too sick to compete.

"They did an excellent job adapting to each other's playing style on the fly without any practice," Freischlag said. "They still went out and competed and did phenomenal."

T.F. South won the overall title with 16 points, followed by Buffalo Grove (15), Lyons Twp. (12), Hinsdale Central (10.5), Prospect and Fremd (10 points each), Naperville North (9.5) and York and Lockport (7.5 each).

Oswego capped the 2014 season with a fifth straight SPC title and had a record-setting four girls qualify for state.

"It was an excellent season," Freischlag said. "We have bigger and better dreams for next season."

Oswego East went fifth in conference, finished a best-ever third place at the Lockport Sectional and saw Hwang qualify for state.

"Our season, overall with a majority my girls, was a learning experience," Jurkovic said. "(Lone) senior Pearl Fox will be missed, but after conference/sectionals, they all seemed to be hungry to get better, so playing in the off-season is essential to that. Our freshman won the conference title, and if we can get most of the girls to commit to the sport, we should have shot at finishing near to top of the conference (next year)."




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