Hinsdale South senior Carissa Niemann has been nothing less than perfect the last two years.
She was a perfect 45-0 last year, winning the girls badminton singles title. This year, despite missing about three weeks of the season with tendinitis in her right elbow, she stands at 27-0 heading into the two-day state finals, starting Friday at Downers Grove North.
And during her incredible two-year run she has not even lost a game, let alone a match.
Andrew's Carlie VanBruggen battled Niemann before falling 11-8 in Niemann's toughest game yet. And when Niemann first returned from the elbow injury earlier this season, she faced New Trier's No. 1 singles player--Cathy Cheng (33-1)--and Niemann triumphed 11-6, 11-4.
"She's awesome," Hornets coach John Charters said. "She's got all the will to repeat that you don't normally see in a defending champion. She plays like she didn't win the title last year. She's playing with so much confidence; that alone could carry her."
Not to mention her pinpoint accuracy and fancy footwork.
"She can place the birdie anywhere on the court that she wants to," Charters said. "If she wants to put it down in a two-inch by two-inch square, she can do it."
Niemann, who will attend Bradley in the fall, also is very deceptive. She's friendly and outgoing off the court, "but very determined and focused to win when playing," Charters said.
"I want to do my best, and know that I did my best because I want to leave an impression on everyone who watches me," Niemann said. "If people say my name, I want them to say, `Oh yeah, she was a very good badminton player.'"
Cheng is, arguably, Niemann's top challenger. And revenge for her lone loss of the season is on Cheng's mind.
"I think everyone's after Carissa," said Cheng, who will attend Harvard. "She's always fun to play against, even if you don't win because she plays at such a high level. You don't get to play against players at Carissa's level too, too often.
"Beating her would be incredible."
Niemann isn't the only potential repeat champion looking to defend a title this weekend. Andrew has its three straight team titles on the line. The Thunderbolts also were state champions in 1994 and co-champs in 1983 with Maine West.
"I think the tournament is a little more wide open than in past years," Charters said. "Andrew is, of course, strong, but probably not as strong as its past teams."
Challengers include host Downers Grove North, Willowbrook, New Trier, Glenbrook South, Naperville North and Hinsdale South. This year's darkhorses include Evanston, Sandburg and Hinsdale Central.
"Andrew can be beaten, definitely," New Trier coach Deborah Ofcky said. "I'm not sure we can beat them . . . but they definitely can be beaten by someone this year."