Badminton: Healthy Wan Wan Liu eyes fourth trip to stateStevenson's Wan Wan Liu returns a shot during her singles match against Zion Benton's Fatima Kahn at Lake Forest High School Friday. April 8, 2011. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 2, 2012 7:15PM
Stevenson badminton star Wan Wan Liu is completely healthy.
That’s a good thing for Stevenson, not so good for the other singles players around the state.
Liu, a senior, is one of a nearly a dozen girls with the skills necessary to win the state championship next month at Eastern Illinois University. She has put the disappointment of last year’s injury-plagued campaign behind her and is off to a 29-2 start, which includes winning the championship of Hinsdale South’s prestigious ABCD Invitational.
Liu, who would be making her fourth appearance at state, was on track to contend last year when she developed a biceps injury similar to the “dead arm” experienced by some baseball pitchers.
After taking a week off, she returned for the postseason and advanced to state, but lacked power on her shots and lost in the first round. Liu showed fortitude in winning four matches in the backdraw to help Stevenson finish sixth.
“This was something that she trained hard for and I think we had a real nice team last year, so she was disappointed,” Stevenson coach Mike Fitzgerald said. “I give her a lot of credit for being able to fight through that mental anguish of being disappointed and still contribute as much as she did downstate.”
Liu has put the injury in perspective.
“It was pretty disappointing but I guess it’s a good experience after all and now I know I have to take care of myself and how to not get injured,” Liu said. “My goal this year will be to play my best and hopefully get into the top six places and no matter what happens I’ll always appreciate the [other] player and do my best.”
With a top-six finish, Liu would join 1999 champion Miwa Kuniwake as the only singles players in school history to win a medal. It would also give the Patriots a boost toward their goal of winning their first trophy and be a fitting end to a career that started at age 9, several years before most girls begin the sport.
“She’s definitely in the mix,” Fitzgerald said. “She’s got to put together a little bit more consistency. We still have some time to work on that.”
Liu’s shot placement has improved this year, adding effectiveness to her power game.
“I think [my strength] is my power,” Liu said. “My conditioning is still not that good, so I always use a lot of my power and do really hard-core clears and smashes.”
More than her talent, it is Liu’s all-around excellence that inspires the Patriots, a senior-laden team that Fitzgerald said is Stevenson’s best ever. She has a 4.4 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) and will study math at California-Berkeley. That example rubs off on teammates like senior Taylor Seplowin, who took up badminton as a freshman and didn’t make the varsity team until last spring.
“She pushes everybody to their limit and she sets a good example and she’s a great player,” said Seplowin, who was sixth in doubles last year and is now Stevenson’s No. 2 singles player. “She shows everybody what it means to be dedicated to the sport and it makes everybody want to push themselves higher just to get to her level.”