By Nelson Coffin
Rita Li did not falter in her first A Conference badminton final.
Instead, the Friends sophomore flourished while claiming a No. 1 singles individual title on Friday at Roland Park Country School.
Although Li defeated Alina Lemke, 21-7, 21-4, to finish the season unbeaten and mostly unchallenged, the Roland Park freshman scored nearly three times as many points against the Quaker star than two previous opponents did combined in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.
At 5-feet-10, Li’s wing span, agility, athleticism and experience — the international transfer student played year-round in China — make her a formidable opponent.
“She has all the shots,” Friends coach Tom Buck said. “She has an excellent smash, a great drop and her backhand is as strong as her forehand. I don’t see any weaknesses.”
Buck said that Li’s teammates do not feel threatened by her prowess.
“They adore her,” he said. “They really appreciate her. I see a lot of socialization going on with her and her teammates.”
Friends senior Jocelyn Gann said that that she was excited to welcome her new teammate and nervous about playing against her.
“I had heard a lot about her,” Gann said. “She’s good enough that she can help to teach us. She’s super helpful. I could see how good she was when she played against our assistant coach (Vincent Nguy). With her length, she has a great lunge. She doesn’t have to move as much as we do to get to a shot.”
Roland Park coach Jane Seibert said that Li is far and away the most accomplished player in the league.
“Her finesse is at a totally different level,” said Seibert, whose Reds captured the A Conference team crown.
Buck said that he didn’t know that Li was joining the team until just before the season.
“I didn’t believe how good she was until I saw her play,” he said.
For Li, though, there were other major challenges while transitioning from a school in China to Friends, according to an article by athletic coordinator Ken Zalis on the Friends School website.
“The hardest part is the language,” Li said in an interview with Zalis. “For the first month at Friends, I could hardly understand what the teachers said in class. The homework took me more than two hours a night to finish and the [10-day] schedule is very different — the classes are longer. Here, students move from one classroom to another instead of the teachers moving.
“Collection, Meeting for Worship, and advisory are also all new to me,” she adds. “I did not talk often in the first few months at Friends because I was nervous. Now I feel more confident; I am used to the schedule. and I am able to understand what the teachers are saying in class, but I still have a little difficulty in English. Also, I talk more than before and have made many friends. Everything is getting better each day. I like Friends a lot.”