LANSING | The tears on the faces were not tears of joy, but real tears.
When T.F. South won the state title last year, it was mixed emotions at Eastern Illinois University.
"This year, we want to win with smiles," T.F. South coach Bob Tengstrand said. "Last year we didn't know how to win, we had tears in our eyes. We won without having a single state champion."
Jessica Gomez had to injury default in the third-place match at No. 1 singles with a knee injury. The No. 1 doubles team of Shannon Pollard and Jenna Pasko were one point away from taking first, then lost. Cassie Breshock and Jhennie Corpuz lost in the consolation bracket.
"We were happy we won, but not the way we did," Gomez said. "We used it to get better and be more dedicated. We all worked really hard and want to get even better. For me, to go out that way, it was tough. This is my senior year and I want to go out No. 1."
For a team that won a state title and returns the core of Gomez, Breshock and Pasko, it has more of a look of a team trying to get to the top. They know there is a target on their backs, but that is fine.
"We want to sustain what we accomplished," Breshock said. "We are rebuilding as a team, we lost a lot of good players, but we have a lot of good players. We know that there a lot of good teams out there and everyone has a chance."
Pasko said the bar has been set high, but that is not pressure.
"You want to have goals and you have to work to always get better," Pasko said. "We are state champs, but we have to go out and prove it again this year."
Breshock will team with Pasko this year at No. 1 doubles and Tengstrand feels he has the top[ singles player in Gomez and top tandem in Breshock and Pasko.
"They have put in the time and they are just good badminton players," Tengstrand said. "They go out and play their game."
Breshock said she and Pasko have to develop that chemistry, but it is taking shape.
"We are good friends and we do a lot of things as a team off the court," Breshock said. "You do have to learn about each other, where to go on the court, but the more you play, the more comfortable you become out there."
Pasko said the two have played well in the preseason.
"You work together every day and you focus on our goal," Pasko said. "We want to win state again and you keep working hard to get there."
The Rebels split their first two matches of the season Tuesday and are in the Shepard Tournament today.
"We gear everything toward the postseason," Tengstrand said. "That is everyone's goal. Ours is to work through the season, tweak what we need to tweak and get ready for the state meet."