PALOS HEIGHTS | There were plenty of questions Saturday surrounding T.F. South's girls badminton team at the Shepard Invitational.
Chief was how would No. 1 singles player Jessica Gomez’s knee hold up in her first tournament of the season. She tore her ACL and meniscus in the third-place match of last year’s state finals.
By the end of the event, coach Bob Tengstrand had his answer. Gomez didn’t drop a set, winning the singles title and also helping the Rebels take the team crown.
"This win gets me back and really boosts my confidence,” she said. “Badminton is more mental than physical, so getting this win definitely gets my confidence back.”
The win is especially sweet for Gomez after she spent the last 10 months rehabbing her knee and hoping she could return at the level she played at last season.
“When they told me how severe the injury was I cried,” Gomez said. “The first two months, when the knee was immobilized, were the hardest; all I could think about was how I would be when I got back.”
If Saturday was any indicator then Gomez looked 100% or close to it hitting shots from everywhere and covering the entire court with ease.
The Rebels also answered any questions that might have been out there about their depth after losing three state qualifiers to graduation.
With multiple players, including No. 1 doubles player Jenna Pasko, unavailable due to other commitments, Tengstrand was forced to juggle his lineup in search of a winning combination.
“I didn’t expect a win today,” Tengstrand said. “I was really looking ahead to the next tournament when we were at full strength but everyone stepped up for us.”
With Pasko out, her partner Cassie Breshock was forced into singles action and finished second at No 2 singles.
The Rebels placed in the top three in all six match-ups.
Joining Gomez as champions were the team of Brittany Arreola and Jeanne Colin, who took home the No. 2 doubles title.
It was the first varsity action for both Arreola, who led the sophomore team last, year and Colin, who was playing in France before coming to T.F. South as an exchange student.
“It’s pretty amazing, and it feels great,” Arreola said. “This is my first year on varsity and every game is a challenge. "It wasn’t perfect today, but I just take every game as it comes.”
For Colin, the experience was even more special since her high school in France doesn’t have competitive sports programs.
“I love how high school sports are played here,” Colin said. “I love how involved everyone is and all the support for the teams here. It felt great to get the win, but we still have work to do.”
The day wasn’t as sweet for rival T.F. North, which failed to put anyone on the medal stand and finished eighth.