It’s been an unexpected run for Lockport and coach Denise Hadley.
The Porters became one of 14 teams in the state to qualify all six of their players from sectionals to the state finals, which start Friday at Eastern Illinois University.
Singles players Sara Napoli, winner of the SouthWest Suburban Red Tournament and the Lockport Sectional, and Kelly Miotti return with state meet experience, but the doubles tandems of Kim Nakutis and Carlie Cisarik, and Jane Kolacki and Sydney Baltrusaitis came out of nowhere.
So did Hadley expect to be so good this season?
“Not at all,” she said. “Our doubles teams were all at the lower end of our lineup last year. Jane Kolacki was an exhibition player, Kim Nakutis was fifth doubles and didn’t play singles, Carlie didn’t even play doubles last year and Sydney was in the middle of the lineup. With this four, it’s really unbelievable what they’ve done this season.”
Nakutis and Cisarik (34-9), who earned the sectional title, got a 13-16 seed. Only the top 25 percent of singles and doubles teams receive a seed for state.
“A lot of times you try doubles and they just don’t work,” Hadley said. “But this year, I kept them where they wanted to be and it worked out.”
In singles, Napoli (33-11) netted a 9-12 seed.
“Sara is very smart, and her strategy changes from each person she plays,” Hadley said. “She’s got a little booklet. After every match, she writes her opponent’s name, what they did and didn’t do. Strategically, she’s very smart with her game. And she’s quick.”
Napoli won two matches at state last season to help Lockport finish 17th. She’s put in time during the offseason, driving an hour each way to the Shannon Pohl Badminton Academy in Vernon Hills.
“We started off a little rocky,” Napoli said. “Slowly, we’ve gotten better and progressed.”
Miotti (40-10) — like the second doubles team of Baltrusaitis and Kolacki (36-9) — also has the chance to secure valuable team points.
“We have a great 1-2 punch at singles,” Hadley said. “I think Kelly has the confidence right now. She’s practicing great. I’m really proud of her.”
Miotti, like all six of Lockport’s qualifiers, is a senior.
“Lockport has a great tradition,” Hadley said. “In my past 30 years we’ve consistently done well, not just because of the kids but because we’ve got a great staff, too. I was a little hesitant where we were going to go this season. Our seniors really stepped up and let our team know we have a tradition that we’re going to keep strong.”
Beating up the boys
Lincoln-Way Central coach Liz Karales deployed an interesting method to prepare her players for the postseason, and it paid off for the doubles duo of Catrina Cimaroli and Jana Mudrock.
“The guy teachers around the school came out to play in order to show the girls how hard and fast some of the shots would be coming at them at state,” Karales said. “It was a lot of fun, because the teachers talk a big game, so it mentally and physically prepared the girls.
“It was awesome because the girls would win most of the time.”
Cimaroli and Mudrock qualified out of arguably the area’s toughest sectional, with top-seeded T.F. South and perennial power Andrew. The Knights tandem finished third at the sectional and earned a 9-12 seed at state.