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Joliet Central And Joliet West Badminton At 13th Annual Birds Of Steel Tournament

By Randy Whalen

Ana Gudeman and Audrey Rodriguez are making beautiful music together.

The two Joliet Central sophomores not only play first doubles together on the badminton team, but they also both make music. 


Gudeman and Rodriguez went 6-1 and took second place at first doubles in the recent Birds of Steel Tournament. That was the 13th annual badminton tourney that was hosted by the Steelmen and held on Saturday, March 18 at the Joliet Central Fieldhouse. 

"Ana and Audrey are playing No. 1 doubles together after being on the JV team last season," Joliet Central coach Lisa Luangsomkham said. "But they have played with each other since being at my summer camp some years ago.

"A lot of our girls are superstars and are in multiple activities."

While Gudeman and Rodriguez play together in badminton, they also both play music. Gudeman plays first-chair alto saxophone in the school band. Rodriguez plays violin in the school orchestra.  

"Yes, we've been playing together since 2018," Rodriquez confirmed. "We just know each other's skills and how to play well together. I play in the orchestra and (Gudeman) plays in the band. Once in a while, we play at the same event."

Which activity does Rodriquez like better?

"They are both very different," she said. "I like being active but I also love music. So it's too hard to pick between them."

Gudeman agreed and has been doing both activities for a long time.

I've been playing saxophone since fourth grade and alto saxophone since freshman year," Gudeman said. "My sister, Rachael, played badminton here and went to state (in doubles) in 2021. I look up to her.

"Audrey and I were a team ever since we first met. She's left-handed and I'm right-handed, so we cover the court well. It's key when we are playing doubles. I've also been playing No. 1 or No. 2 singles. But I like doubles better. It's hard for me to regulate myself and Audrey calms me down, gets us back and we've got it."

Also doing well for Joliet Central in the tourney was the No.3 doubles team of junior Sofia Baltz (who is an outstanding player for JT tennis) & sophomore Diana Mascote, who also took second place with a 6-1 record. For No. 2 singles, senior Contessa Szymczak placed third place with a 5-2 record.

Senior Gabriela Bonfil, and junior Heather Long, who has been playing some at No. 1 singles, are the captains for Joliet Central. 

Team-wise, Metea Valley took first place with 28 points, while Lincoln-Way West (25 points), behind the winning No. 2 doubles team of Abigail Grude and Malori Zamora finished second and the Steelmen (24) were just behind in third. Romeoville (23), Plainfield North (16), Plainfield South (15), Joliet West (5), and Plainfield East (4) rounded out the eight-team field, which was played in a round-robin format where everyone played each other.

"We love having this tournament," said Luangsomkham, who has been coaching badminton at Joliet Central for 15 years. "We have both a varsity and JV tournament on 24 total courts (including using the main gym for the JV tourney). We have built a community at this tournament and always have the same teams here. We all know each other and root for each other."

It also helps kick off the season.

"Our first tournament is always here," said Joliet West badminton coach Natalie Mander, whose team opened with a couple of quads the week before. "We have a younger team and a lot of girls have vaulted from the freshman team right to the varsity. We have four seniors, two juniors, and five sophomores on the varsity."

Two of those seniors, Addison Consalvo and Maddie Fier were in the top two singles positions for the Tigers.

"I'm playing No. 1 singles this season," Consalvo said, "I was No. singles last year. But we lost a lot of seniors from last year so I knew I could move up and I was really excited. Maddie (Fier) and I have also played a lot of No. 1 doubles together. We've been playing on the team together for three years but only became partners this year. 

"But we became friends on the team, so we know we can call each other out. We hope we can get some wins against (Southwest Prairie) Conference teams and have a lot of fun."

Fier was at the No. 2 singles spot but she thought that perhaps doubles was her better event.

"I go back and forth but I like doubles better," Fier said. "I like that I have someone else on the court with me. 

"I had never played badminton before high school. What I like is that you have to pay attention and know where you are on the court. I'm hoping to win more, improve my skills and finish my senior season strong."

At the Birds of Steel Tournament, junior Shradha Verma and senior Isabella Jones played at No. 1 doubles. Sophomores Eseena Hamm and Natalie Quiroz were at No. 2 doubles and had two wins there, and senior Samantha Hebrard Flores and sophomore Brianna Ocampo were at third doubles.

"Our first singles have been pretty consistent," said Mander, who played badminton at Joliet West, graduating in 2015, and is now in her third season as head coach for the Tigers. "But our doubles teams have been like pulling straws. It's a round-robin at this point.

"But I have seen a lot of growth and at the end, I wanted to see how we would hold up mentally after a long day. I like that this tournament has six SPC schools. We see a lot of the competition that we will see during the season."

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