Naperville North’s Jessica Hu experiencing growth

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Naperville North badminton player Jessica Hu is drawing attention to herself in more ways than one this spring.

The junior shaved her head in March for the St. Baldrick’s Day charity fundraiser and her hair is still growing back in.

The day before last week’s sectional, she had a unique design shaved into the left side of her scalp.

“We decided to have a little fun with it,” Hu said. “My coach helped me shave it and I got some racing stripes in here for sectionals. It’s more aerodynamic.”

Whether the new look helped or not, Hu is playing the best badminton of her career. She upset teammate Kyleen Jan to win the Naperville North Sectional singles title and takes a 29-1 record into this weekend’s state finals at Eastern Illinois University.

Hu will be making her Downstate debut, while Jan (20-3), the Huskies’ No. 1 singles player, is making her third appearance. Jan earned a 5-8 seed while Hu is seeded 13-16. They will be joined by the doubles team of sophomores Stephanie Chen and Clare Jiang.

This tournament will mark the farewell of longtime Naperville North coach Bob Funston, who is retiring. Funston, 80, may return as a lower-level coach next year but hasn’t decided yet.

The Huskies have done well in Funston’s final season, winning the DuPage Valley Conference championship for the first time since 1997 and sharing the sectional title with Downers Grove North. They won every dual meet and all but one of their tournaments.

“It’s been great,” Hu said. “We’ve got to work out some kinks here and there, but I think overall it’s been really good.”

Even so, Hu and her teammates are not setting any specific goals this weekend.

“The goal is to see how well we can do,” Hu said. “If we get anything, cool, but it’s just to get more match experience and we have a pretty young state team. We could do [well] next year, too.”

Unlike the past two years, Naperville schools are not expected to bring back any hardware. North won its first trophy in 2012 when the Huskies tied Stevenson for the state title, while Naperville Central captured its first trophy last year with a second-place finish.

The Redhawks only qualified singles players Allison Ma and Surya Nair.

Ma (35-7), a junior, went to state last year in doubles, and is seeded 5-8, while Nair (32-9), a sophomore, qualified for the first time. Most of Ma’s losses were to stars like Jan, Fremd senior Angela Wu and Hinsdale South freshman Judy Yang.

“She’s been playing really well and hopefully she’ll finish in the top 10, maybe even higher,” Naperville Central coach Tamara Burke said of Ma. “She went three sets with Wu and Yang.

“[Nair] has had a great year. She put a lot of work in at the club in the offseason and she’s been playing No. 2 all year and has done very well. It’s a great experience for both of them.”

Metea Valley will be represented by sophomore Moriah Gau in singles and seniors Emily Dixon and Alyssa Funk in doubles. Neuqua Valley qualified the doubles team of senior Nicole Mosier and junior Katherine Chung.

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