LANSING | Bob Tengstrand doesn't really look like a country music sort of guy. If he'd gotten his way, T.F. South's badminton team would be wearing t-shirts adorned with a pilfered and paraphrased Blake Shelton lyric:
"We may not win state — but it'd sure be cool if we did."
The Rebels' No. 1 singles player, Jessica Gomez, wrinkled her nose Saturday at the reminder.
"I thought it was unnecessary," she said. "I know my coach too well. He was being cocky."
The Rebels instead chose a Batman-themed shirt — "Batminton." Why?
"We just thought it was cute," Gomez said.
Tengstrand would offer that as proof of his challenge this year — getting his players to act not like the high school girls they are, but the state champions they are widely expected to become. Gomez countered that there is a difference between cocky and confident.
"Cocky leads you to a downfall," she said. "Confidence is more humble. You know you can do it, but it's humble. Cocky is like throwing it in people's faces."
Confidence flowed easily Saturday for the Rebels at the third T.F. South Invitational. They won the eight-team event with 42 points — a perfect score of 6-0 sweeps against the seven other schools.
Geneva was second with 30 points, Oak Forest third with 22.
None of the matches T.F. South played went to a third game. Gomez (18-0 on the season) won at No. 1, Andriana Johnson (17-1) at No. 2, and Cameron Crosby (17-1) at No. 3. In doubles, Jenna Pasko and Shannon Pollard (18-0) won at No. 1, Cassie Breshock and Jhennie Corpuz (17-1) at No. 2 and Bri Walker and Jessica Ballard (11-2) at No. 3.
As for that state meet seven weeks off, Tengstrand claimed, "They don't like to talk about it." But Pollard, didn't shy away from the topic.
"We've been talking about state for the past two years," said the four-year varsity player.
In part because the Rebels finished second in state in 2011 and sixth last year. Also for the potential to earn a rare state-shaped sign on the gym wall — T.F. South has just one team state championship in its 54-year history, the 1980 girls bowling crown.
"Other kids think it's a not a big deal because it's just badminton and it's not hard, but it would be great to create history," Pollard said. "It would be great to look back on this realize how far hard work and dedication can get you."
The Rebels chances for such reminiscence seem good. Everyone is back from last year's state lineup, including doubles squads that out-scored any other school's last year, and Gomez, a 9-12 seed as a sophomore in 2012.
"She's twice as good as she was last year," Tengstrand said. "In February, she played an open tournament at Purdue and beat Hannah Doorne, the 2011 state champ from New Trier, 21-16, 21-4."