‘I feel like I belong’: Maine South’s Gianna Faraci breaks through with trip to badminton state meet

An innocent nudge from a friend during physical education class led then-sophomore Gianna Faraci to join Maine South’s badminton team.

In the ensuing 15 months, the junior has made remarkable progress, going from a complete novice to competing in the singles draw at the state meet Friday in Charleston.

“I’ve found that I really have a passion for the sport,” Faraci said. “I’ve always been really competitive in so many sports and always think there’s room for improvement.”

Some improvement naturally comes through practice and repetition, but Faraci’s athleticism is the main reason why she’s gained so much ground so quickly. She began the season playing No. 3 singles and ended it by playing against top-flight competition, which she said has made her a better player.

The season’s stretch run included a memorable sectional performance and a win against Sandburg’s Kaylynn Murray in the first round of the state meet. Faraci lost her next two matches, but that likely will motivate her heading into her senior season.

“Late in the year was when she really began to blossom,” Maine South coach Eve Muir Wilson said. “She can get away with beating some opponents just being more athletic, but she’s still pretty raw shotmaking-wise. She’s only going to get better.”

Muir Wilson pointed to a prime example of Faraci’s potential in two sectional matches against Lake Forest’s Bridget McGreevy.

As the season wore on, Faraci’s bread and butter became clearing shots toward a right-handed opponent’s backhand. The problem she encountered at sectionals: McGreevy is left-handed.

In their first matchup, Faraci innocently fed McGreevy a healthy diet of forehand opportunities, and McGreevy took advantage of those chances. In the rematch, Faraci varied her returns enough to record a three-game victory. She clinched a trip downstate.

“I learned a lot from that, finding different strategies to win,” said Faraci, who finished the season with a 15-16 record. “The girls I’m playing are good, so I’ve got to be smart, in addition to playing well.”

Faraci might be relatively new to the sport, but she brought some skills from years playing tennis at Park Ridge Country Club. She also brings a competitive edge to the court, something she tries to emulate from her tennis inspiration: Serena Williams.

“I think about her when I’m playing, how she’s always driving for more,” Faraci said. “She never gives up on shots and doesn’t let anyone stop her.”

With more fine-tuning and a commitment to offseason workouts this summer, Faraci might end up making a deeper run at next season’s state meet. She said she’s confident that her tennis training gives her an advantage on the court, too.

“I feel like in the end, I learned how to play like the other top girls and to play on their level,” Faraci said. “I feel more like a true player, instead of just hitting it over the net. I feel like I belong.”

Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

Twitter @Pioneer_Press

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