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By Randy Whalen

Lisa Luangsomkham always has the Joliet Central badminton team doing great things.

For that, she was rewarded at this season's Illinois High School Association State Badminton Finals. Those were held on Friday, May 10, and Saturday, May 11 at DeKalb High School.

Luangsomkham was presented with the Badminton Head Coach of the Year Award on the tournament's opening day.

"A big thank you to the Illinois Association of Badminton Coaches for selecting me as the 2024 Head Coach of the Year," Luangsomkham said. "It is an absolute honor to receive this award from my fellow coaches."

The Steelmen were also nominated for another award. Which also made Luangsomkham proud.

"Thank you to the IHSA badminton community for nominating Joliet Central for the Sue Hinrichsen team sportsmanship award," she said. "Congratulations to friends from Hoffman Estates for winning the award."

This spring, the Steelmen registered a couple of points at state. The last time that happened was in 2019, when Lauryn Luangsomkham, Lisa's daughter, got two points on her own. 

At this season's state finals, senior Sophia Baltz won her first round 21-8, 21-11 over junior Cali Bennett from Vernon Hills. But in the second round, she lost 21-8, 12-21, 21-12 to sophomore Pragya Iyer from Metea Valley. Then in the consolation bracket, Baltz fell to York junior Mia Koenigsberger 21-13, 21-5. 

Sarai Contreras dropped her two matches at state. Those were 21-17, 21-14 to junior Kate Haravon from Glenbrook South and 13-21, 21-9, 21-12 to Buffalo Grove junior Mia Whippo. Still, it was a success story for the Steelmen sophomore to even get to state as she played on the JV team all season. 

In their second straight trip to state, Joliet Central juniors Ana Gudeman and Audrey Rodriguez reached a goal of winning a match after being blanked last year. That came in a 21-12, 21-19 win over fellow juniors Rayya Patel and Deana Chin from Glenbrook South.

But in the second round, they fell 21-5, 21-7 to seniors Keerthana Rajkumar and Jeslin Vettikkatt from Fremd, who eventually placed third. In the consolation bracket, they lost 21-12, 21-15 to seniors Hilary McGivern and Allie Draper from Lincoln-Way Central.

"There were many phenomenal players and it was awesome competing and watching everyone compete," Luangsomkham said. "We didn't make it to Day 2 of state, but I’m still very proud of my team. Congratulations to the talented Fremd (18.5 points) team for winning the state title!"

At the Lockport Sectional, on Thursday, May 2, the Steelmen didn't win the title but came close. The host Porters won it with 17 points. Joliet Central was second with 12.5 points. Plainfield South (7), Oak Forest (5), Stagg (3.5), Shepard (2.5) and Oswego (1.5) rounded out the field.

Baltz placed second in singles. She won her first two matches, 21-10, 21-5, and 21-7, 21-13 before losing to Lockport freshman Angelina Dinh 21-10, 21-9 in the final. 

For Baltz, who also qualified for state last fall in tennis, it was very satisfying to go to state in badminton as well.

"I knew I had good hand-eye coordination (for both tennis and badminton)," Baltz said following the sectional. "I can hit the bird well and I'm really happy that I'm going to state, that was the goal. 

"It (state finals) will take place and then it will be my last week of high school. So that will be neat. I'm going to the University of Illinois and will probably play club badminton and tennis there."

Contreras also lost to Dinh 21-13, 21-5 in the semifinals but bounced back to win her next two matches. That included a 21-17, 21-8 victory over Lockport senior Madison Ciaccia in the third-place match. 

Gudeman and Rodriguez nearly played for the sectional title. But the dynamic duo lost 29-27, 21-19 to Lockport seniors Ashleigh Andruch and Catherine Holdman, who went on to win the sectional, in the semifinals. 

"Losing like that to Lockport was tough," Gudeman said after the sectional. "But I'm happy we came back. It definitely feels good to go to state again and I knew we could do it."

The Steelmen pair, who also play in respective bands at the school, look forward to another opportunity next season. They bounced back from the semifinal loss to win their next two matches 21-10, 21-11, and 21-12, 21-16 to place third.

"It's so exciting," Rodriquez said following the sectional of once again going to state. "It all goes back to how little we were when we first started playing together. We just keep going up, up, and up. 

We are always improving. Ana always tells me that 'it's OK' out there. So I wanted to go to state again with her and do it for her."

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