Tears from a champ

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The most dominant player for the last two years in Illinois high school badminton cried tears of relief, tears of pain and tears representing the end of an impeccable career.

"Plus I'm an emotional person, so I'm going to cry anyway," said Hinsdale South senior Carissa Niemann, who capped her flawless run Saturday with, to no one's surprise, her second consecutive singles championship at the state tournament at Downers Grove North.

Against the state's best competition and despite tendinitis in her right arm, Niemann finished with a 78-0 record, not losing a single game.

She ended in fitting fashion, defeating unseeded Jessica DeBruler of Downers North 11-3, 11-1 in a championship match that lasted about 15 minutes.

Much like the singles championship, host Downers North erased any suspense for the team race in the morning quarterfinals.

That's when the Trojans all but secured their first state championship by winning all three of their pivotal matches, which are worth two points, double other matches.

Downers North, runner-up the last two years, completed the two-day tournament with 20.5 points, the highest total since Palatine had 21 in 1991.

Three-time defending champion Andrew took second place with 14, followed by Willowbrook (13), Hinsdale South (11.5) and New Trier (10).

The Trojans cruised to the championship after the quarterfinals, and it only got better after that.

Downers North produced its second consecutive doubles championship, with top-seeded Emily Kalal and Laura Swoboda defeating Willowbrook's Sarah Vegter and Katie Loresch in the title match 15-6, 15-12.

The two doubles teams had split in the regular season.

"When we found out that no one could catch us, that was the best," said Kalal, a senior. The doubles championship "is all icing on the cake. ... It's amazing. We didn't think we would do this well."

In singles, DeBruler, a junior, finished second and Nicole LaVallie, who won the doubles championship last year, took third.

"This was the best tournament of the year for us," Downers North Anthony Calderone. "We peaked at the right time."

Niemann proved to be Downers North's only significant snag.

Niemann ousted LaVallie 11-2, 11-2 in the semifinals before she routed DeBruler in the championship.

LaVallie went on to defeat Andrew's Jessica George 11-8, 11-1 in the third-place match.

George previously had upset second-seeded Cathy Cheng of New Trier in the quarterfinals.

Saturday also represented the end of Niemann's competitive badminton career. Next year she will attend Bradley, a school that does not field a badminton team.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet," she said. "Right now it won't be hard, but in a week or two, it might be."

Reflecting on her unbeaten-game streak, which was put to the test in the quarterfinals when Andrew's Carlie VanBruggen had her down 9-5 in the second game before she raced back to win 11-9, Niemann wiped away her tears and smiled.

"That is amazing to me," she said. "I must have the best luck in the world."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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