By Nelson Coffin
After completing an undefeated season in the A Conference by beating Notre Dame Prep on Tuesday, 5-2, Roland Park Country School still has a huge challenge ahead in order to claim the program’s first badminton title since 2014 when the Reds host the A Conference and B Conference finals May 2-4.
RPCS coach Jane Seibert said that there are no guarantees in the tournament, which features a random draw below the top-four seeded players in singles and doubles.
According to Seibert, the random draw, in which players’ names are plucked out of a hat the night before the event, has its pros and cons.
“It makes things very exciting,” Seibert said. “But it also makes you very much at the mercy of the draw.”
Still, the Reds are the favorite in the A Conference heading into championship week after winning all eight of their team matches this spring while St. Paul’s School for Girls is in a similar position after going 9-0 in the B Conference with one match remaining.
On Tuesday, NDP put up a good fight before succumbing to the Reds.
The Blazers, who lost, 4-3, in four of their six setbacks this season, could not get that close against RPCS, but did improve after falling, 6-1, to the Reds in the first match of the year.
“We were close in so many of our matches,” said NDP coach Therese Maguire, whose teams have captured a record seven A Conference titles in 13 years. “When you lose, 4-3, the match could go either way. But it’s not like that against Roland Park. They’re a different animal.”
Freshman Alina Lemke, a transfer student from Germany, decisioned Blazer senior Rhea Santos, 21-7, 21-11, in No. 1 singles while junior Emory Gatchell stopped Juliana Gorman, 21-6, 21-5, in No. 2 singles.
However, a singles’ sweep by the Reds was averted when NDP freshman Maddie Willenborg fashioned a 21-13, 21-13 win over sophomore Gabi Dorsey.
Roland Park started off well in doubles play when the No. 1 tandem of senior Alex Rubin and Ellie Del Guerico topped NDP seniors Grace Gercken and Brooke Challands, 21-9, 21-18.
That trend continued with Claire Thomas and Hadley Saba beating fellow juniors Margaret Schiavone and Sarah Rose, 21-9, 21-17, and juniors Spencer Sutley and Berkley Reddick downing sophomore Kelsey Knott and senior Vivi Heubeck, 21-17, 17-21, 21-17.
The Blazers exacted some revenge when juniors Sarah Padilla and Stacy Villanueva edged junior Makena Stoller and freshman Kayla Valez, 21-14, 17-21, 21-17.
Siebert said that the loss of No. 3 singles player Gen Block to an injury would have had more of a negative impact on the team without Lemke enrolling in the school for the spring semester.
“It was unexpected to have Alina,” the coach said. “I didn’t know anything about her.”
And Lemke said that she didn’t know much about playing on a school team in America.
“In Germany I played for a club team,” she said. “Playing here, where there’s school spirit is way cooler.”
Winning every match had to feel pretty good, too.
“It was definitely amazing,” Thomas said.
“We saw a lot of progress from last year,” Saba added.