York girls badminton team opens season on a high note
Dukes defeat Downers Grove South 12-3 in new head coach Bartolai’s debut.
By Mike Miazga
The York girls badminton team continued where it left off last season.
The Dukes opened the 2017 season with a 13-2 West Suburban Conference crossover victory against Downers Grove South. York’s JV team won 15-0 and the Dukes’ freshman squad won 12-3.
York, under the direction of new head coach and longtime program coach Pia Bartolai, is coming off a 2016 season where it went 9-1 overall in duals and went 5-0 in WSC Silver Division play on the way to winning the conference title. York won another team sectional title and took 13th in the state.
Back for York from a year ago is the No. 1 doubles team of Irin Abraham and Grace Mazzocco, who both are state qualifiers from 2016. Linnea Dierksheide, the younger sister of 2016 state qualifier and No. 1 singles player Julia Dierksheide, is playing No. 1 singles herself this year.
Laura Hyink played on the JV team last year and Bartolai predicted she most likely will play No. 2 singles by the end of the year. Freshmen Aleksina Jovic and Rachel Kayman also will help. “Aleksina and Rachel are freshman players to watch for the next couple years,” said Bartolai.
York has only four returning seniors this season. “This team is young,” said Bartolai. “Most likely, of the six sectional players we will have this year, four will be juniors, which provides a great opportunity to get girls experience and have a really strong team next year.”
But the four seniors are providing strong leadership. “Our four seniors are great leaders,” said Bartolai. “They run the warmups during practice and are all captains. They are great role models to the younger players.”
Bartolai likes the team’s depth in the doubles division. “We also have seven very strong doubles teams that all are competing for spots at the varsity level,” she said. “Unfortunately, we are only able to compete with five doubles teams during dual meets. We are strong in both singles and doubles throughout the lineup, but it seems like doubles might be slightly stronger. With seven doubles teams competing for a spot in the varsity lineup, that’s a great problem to have.”
Bartolai said the team is working diligently on its quickness and agility. “Traditionally we have focused on straightforward conditioning with sprints and running, but this year we are working more on quick footwork and increasing our quickness, reaction and thinking speed on the court,” she said. “This has been where we have improved the most. It’s only been two weeks, but I already see it improving and transferring to the court.”
Individually, York will benefit from the presence of veteran Abraham and Dirksheide in the lineup. “Irin is quick, passionate and eager to learn,” said Bartolai. “This will be her third year on the sectional team (No. 2 singles as a sophomore, No. 1 doubles last year). Linnea is very smart on the court, knows the game well and is learning to play at a higher level.”
Bartolai also likes the chemistry she is seeing with her players. “They are kind, hardworking and eager to learn on the court and off,” she said. “They have a great group dynamic.”
Bartolai is thrilled to be working with assistant coaches Terry Clarke and Gena Fite. Clarke is a longtime athletic coach at the school and enjoyed a long stint as the head wrestling coach, while Fite is York’s former head coach and has an elite badminton resume. “I am lucky to coach with two amazing coaches in Terry and Gena,” said Bartolai. “Terry is amazing at building team community and making badminton fun. Gena was my head coach when I played at York and she was an elite badminton player. Her expertise and coaching experience is going to be an amazing asset to our freshman players.”
Bartolai said she’s excited about her first season as York’s head coach. “I’m incredibly excited and a little nervous having the new responsibility of being head coach, but I have an amazing team of coaches who support me,” she said. “Our goal is to continue the success Nicole Young (former York head coach and the school’s current assistant athletic director) has had over the last 12 years.”