Warriors’ Field, Pan each runners-up in CSL North badminton championships

Deerfield’s top doubles pair, Ina Pan and Talia Field, conducted some pre-scouting on day one of the Central Suburban League North Badminton Championships.

Maybe that wasn’t the best idea.

Vernon Hills’ Neha Kulkarni and Anagha Shreesha look innocent but are a terror with bat in hand.

“We scared ourselves,” Field said.

Kulkarni/Shreesha were selected as Vernon Hills’ No. 1 doubles team by coach Radhika Joshi, although they hadn’t played there all season. The coach thought of the upcoming seeding list. Kulkarni/Shreesha defeated top seed Pan/Field 21-9 , 21-13 in a semifinal match.

Kulkarni/Shreesha then defeated Highland Park’s Adina Bard and Vivian Esgar 21-5, 21-15 to win the No. 1 doubles title.

“Now is her time to shine,” Joshi said.

They indeed shone and rose through the ranks the next day to win their respective conference singles titles.

No. 1 in singles, Pan Kulkarni extended to three games for the first time this season before the Vernon Hills newcomer won 18-21, 21-10 and an epic 25-23 final.


In 2nd place, Shreesha beat his older colleague Field 21-17, 15-21, 21-15, answering the Deerfield left-hander’s previous regular-season win, also in three.

Vernon Hills won seven of 12 singles brackets and four of six doubles slots at the April 29-30 CSL North meet and already led Deerfield in regular-season and dual-meet results — both components making up the conference -Champion – Vernon Hills turned this on its head defending champions at their home studio, 79-70.

Niles North (53 points), Highland Park (36), Maine West and Maine East followed.

Pan, who went to Case Western Reserve on a Premed stretch, bounced back from an 11-6 deficit in the third game to match point, 20-19, and again at 22-21. Kulkarni buckled and won four of the latter five points.

“In the second set I was really tired like I had stitches and I was panting,” said Kulkarni, a hard hitter from Shannon Pohl Badminton Academy who improved to 23-0 in singles during the season.

“I’m honestly surprised I stuck it out in the end because she didn’t seem as tired, as tired as me. So I’m proud of myself for fighting in the end,” she said.

Despite the result, Pan believed she had picked up steam for this week’s Buffalo Grove section. Pan cranked up the pace and rocked her opponent up and down, back and forth, putting off the thought of losing to Kulkarni in the regular season and overcoming the 21-10 second game to push the undefeated freshman.

“The first time I played them, the result was really bad, but I also had a day off,” said Pan, who reached the 2021 state consolation quarterfinals.

“This second time I played against them today proved that we are about at the same level. Hopefully it will be easier for the state.”

Although Pan and Field agreed that doubles wasn’t really their thing as they focused on singles, they defeated Maine West’s Lesley Chavez and Jessica Mueller 22-20, 21-6 in third place.

In the Doubles No. 1 title match, Highland Park’s Bard and Esgar looked to amend their 21-5 first-game loss to Kulkarni and Shreesha. They did, although not enough against the top seed.

“A 10-point increase is a big deal,” said Bard, a sophomore who finished third in singles with a win over Niles North’s Despina Mangalousis (21-14, 21-12).

“I think it’s just about coming back stronger in the next game,” she said. “Every point counts, so just try to get a point or two more and see how it goes.”

Esgar, a junior, enjoys a unique situation in the third year of Highland Park’s badminton program. She is the daughter of 26-year-old Deerfield coach Blanche Esgar, who was a Warriors badminton player from 1981-1985.

“I think it’s a pretty fun relationship because she can be here and see my games and support her own team at the same time,” said Vivian Esgar.

“One of the ways I learned how to play was through Deerfield with their summer camps and all, so it’s always fun to come back here just to kind of get back in the mood. I think it’s just a really cool thing to be able to be tutored by my mom and see her tutoring her own girls,” she said.

Mama wasn’t quite so happy with the situation.

“It’s difficult, especially when they play Deerfield,” said Blanche Esgar.

“If she plays against another team, I don’t mind at all. But when she plays Deerfield I’m so torn because I want to help my girls because that’s my job but that’s my daughter. It’s really heartbreaking and to be honest it’s not a funny situation but it’s ok we’re dealing with it.

“I’m so happy for her. She worked so hard and she and Adina blended so well. It’s so nice to see them play together. I am so proud of the coaches (led by Lydia Gonzalez) who brought them together because they are a good match. I’m looking forward to seeing them go to the sections,” said Blanche Esgar.

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