DARIEN — Andrea Li didn’t have big plans on Saturday night.
“I think I’m just going to chill and go out for dinner,” the Uni High sophomore said on Saturday afternoon. “Nothing too exciting.”
Li already delivered on some high-octane, high-pressure situations earlier on Saturday, making history in the process.
She defeated Amanda Ng of Naperville North 21-17, 22-20 in the state championship match at Hinsdale South High School, becoming the first Uni High athlete to win a badminton state title. And the first IHSA badminton state champion to hail from central Illinois.
All the previous IHSA state champions in the sport — the IHSA has conducted a state tournament since 1977 — have hailed either from Chicago or the nearby Chicago suburbs.
“It’s really nice, especially because Uni is such a small school in comparison with having all the other teams that were here,” Li said. “It just feels really good to win.”
Li won three matches on Saturday to make history. She cruised by Carissa Chen from Waubonsie Valley 21-9, 21-12 in the quarterfinals before defeating Shannon Xu 21-8, 21-11 in the semifinals.
But then she ran into her toughest test at the three-day state tournament in Ng, who kept it close in the first set and enjoyed a 17-13 lead in the second set before Li rallied.
“There were a lot of nerves and just feeling the pressure, but then, I walked around a little bit and just figured out what I needed to change,” Li said. “I made a little bit of a change to put myself in a better position.”
The left-handed Li sealed the championship point with a soft drop shot just over the net that Ng had to get to, but couldn’t reach. A few fist pumps from Li followed before she congratulated Ng on a well-played match.
Even with Saturday’s accomplishment, Li is still early on in her badminton career. The former San Diego resident — she and her family moved to Mahomet in 2019 — didn’t start playing badminton until she was 10 years old. Turns out, she’s a quick study.
“I like that it’s really demanding because there’s just so many aspects to the game,” she said. “There’s the skill aspect and the physical aspect. There’s a lot that happens on court, too, and just the mental part and the strategy. It’s always a challenge, even if you might think you have a match won. It’s just a lot of fun.”
Of course, winning helps ensure the fun continues. A year after losing in the state championship match, Li entered this year’s IHSA state tournament with the No. 1 seed and lived up to the hype.
Li is the first Uni High state champion in any sport since Ema Rajic won two girls’ swimming state championships in 2017, and Li is only the third athlete from The News-Gazette’s coverage area to win an individual state title during the 2021-22 school year. year, joining Paxton-Buckley-Loda boys’ cross-country runner Ryder James and Unity girls’ wrestler Lexi Ritchie.
Plus, Li’s badminton career is still progressing. Li said she plans to play in national-level junior tournaments this summer, with hopes of adding two more state titles before her high school career at Uni High wraps up.
“It just means a lot because I feel like badminton is kind of underrepresented in the United States, and it’s good to show people that this is a fun sport to play,” Li said. “It feels good to deliver when there’s higher expectations placed upon me. I learned a lot from this tournament, too, that I’ll be able to take with me in the future.”