Downers North lead a matter of singles

Nicole LaVallie would have preferred an opportunity to defend her state doubles championship. But her desire to help Downers Grove North win the state badminton title superseded any personal goals, so she took one for the team and moved to singles.

Neither LaVallie nor Downers Grove North can argue with the results of the switch. Through the first day of the state badminton tournament Friday, the host Trojans are in position to win their first state championship.

Entering Saturday, Downers North advanced three positions into the quarterfinals, including LaVallie, who will play Glenbrook South's Tiffanie Kimura at 10 a.m.

Quarterfinal victories are worth two points; all other winner's bracket rounds, one.

The Trojans, runners-up the last two years, finished Friday with 11 points, one ahead of three-time defending champion Andrew and Willowbrook. Hinsdale South is fourth with 8.5 points.

"That's all we were concerned with this year—winning as a team," said LaVallie, a senior. "It's not about individual titles; it's about the team. ... I feel really good the way the team is sitting."

Along with LaVallie, a 3-4 seed, junior Jessica DeBruler advanced to the quarterfinals, as did top-seeded doubles team Emily Kalal and Laura Svoboda. More importantly, all of the Trojans have favorable quarterfinal matchups.

The same cannot be said about Andrew, which also advanced three positions into the quarterfinals. But the Thunderbolts' two singles players—Carlie VanBruggen and Jessica George—play the tournament's top two seeds, Hinsdale South's Carissa Niemann and New Trier's Cathy Cheng, respectively, in the quarters.

"It doesn't look real good, unless there are some upsets [Saturday]," said Andrew coach Terry TerHaar, who had a doubles team ousted earlier than expected.

The way defending singles champion Niemann has ripped through her competition this season, it's unlikely she will fall. Niemann, who hasn't lost a single game in 75 matches in the last two years, only had five points scored on her in three matches Friday.

But with its favorable positioning entering Saturday, Downers North is the team to catch.

"It kind of unfolded in our favor," Downers North coach Anthony Calderone said. "We're in good shape right now. But it's far from over."

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