The most surprising name on the list of the 64 singles players who qualified for this weekend’s state badminton meet at Eastern Illinois University belongs to South Elgin’s Christine Mehr.
The unseeded sophomore stunned everyone, including her coaches, by upsetting the top two seeds to capture the Elk Grove Sectional championship last week, becoming the first Storm player to win a sectional title.
Mehr capped her brilliant tournament by knocking off top-seeded Sarah Haggerty of Glenbard West 21-18, 20-22, 21-19 in the title match. It was her fourth victory of the day and second three-set win.
“It was great,” South Elgin assistant coach Danielle Hammer said. “She just was on. She ran up to me (after the quarterfinals) and gave me this big hug. I was like, ‘Are you all right?’ She said, ‘I just made it to state.’”
The top four finishers in each sectional advance to state in Charleston, but Hammer — who is filling in for head coach Michelle Tuftedal while she is on maternity leave — wasn’t aware that Mehr had qualified by winning her quarterfinal match.
“This is only my second year coaching so I didn’t even realize it,” Hammer said. “I was just checking off each match and seeing who she was going to play next.”
Mehr’s feat is a big deal for South Elgin because the school has had just one other state qualifier in badminton. That was
Mehr’s sister, Lauren, who advanced three times before graduating in 2009.
But Lauren Mehr never won a sectional title or a first-round match at state, finishing her career with a 2-6 record at the finals, so Christine has the potential to make an even bigger impact.
“In a way she kind of lives in her sister’s shadow but she never gets upset,” Hammer said. “She definitely feels like she has to follow in her sister’s path. Her sister was dedicated to badminton and she looks up to her.”
While Mehr’s success may have come ahead of schedule, Hammer always knew the potential was there.
“I did not see it coming but it didn’t surprise me because she had her ‘A’ game that day,” Hammer said of Mehr, who also plays volleyball. “She’s a natural athlete. I’m very proud of her.”
Mehr, who is not among the tournament’s 16 seeds, will open state Friday against Oswego junior Sydney Blount. She won’t be favored to advance as 13-16 seed Cory Galen of Homewood-Flossmoor and No. 2 seed Angela Wu of Fremd are in draw.
Still, Hammer wants Mehr to aim high.
“(The goal is to) enjoy it but also work hard,” Hammer said. “I believe she can go far. She just has to stay positive and focus.”
The Elgin area will also be represented by the St. Charles North doubles team of seniors Amanda Garbarz and Saadiya Jabbar, who finished fourth at the Willowbrook Sectional. They are the first North Stars to qualify for state since 2009 and will take on 3-4 seeds Denna Zayed and Marissa Mangala of Reavis in the first round.