Moriah Gau made history on Saturday at the Upstate Eight Conference tournament.
The sophomore became the first Metea Valley badminton player to win a conference title at No. 1 singles when she edged East Aurora junior Amber McClain 22-20, 23-25, 22-20 in a thrilling final at East Aurora.
“It’s awesome,” Metea Valley coach Matt Long said. “She really rose to the occasion and played a tough opponent in a tough match. Every point was extremely important. It was nuts.”
The match was a see-saw affair that saw Gau and McClain take numerous turns holding the lead, though never by more than a few points. McClain, who was trying to pull off a rare sweep of the singles and doubles titles, held a match point in the third set but dumped a shot into the net.
“I think [the key] was just you had to concentrate hard,” Gau said. “She was really good, too, so each shot really counts and you just have to do your best.”
Gau, the No. 2 seed, was not expecting to become a conference champion this soon and found it hard to adjust to the varsity level.
“This season I’ve been playing in front of more people since we have more meets,” Gau said. “At first it was really nerve-wracking but after a while I settled down. It’s great. I’m proud and I’m happy that I just did my best and I’m proud of my team, too.”
Unlike Gau, who will play singles at next week’s sectional, McClain is better known for her doubles prowess. She and her sister, Tia, qualified for state last season and captured the No. 1 doubles title on Thursday with a 21-16, 18-21, 23-21 win over Neuqua Valley’s Nicole Mosier and Katherine Chung.
But Amber McClain knocked off 2013 state qualifier Christine Mehr of South Elgin in the first round and later upset the top-seeded Mosier 21-15, 24-26, 21-12 in the semifinals before facing Gau.
“It was really close,” McClain said. “It was really tense. Next year [she’ll win].”
Though Neuqua Valley did not take the top spots, the Wildcats won just about everything else in successfully defending their team title with 68 points, 10.5 more than runner-up Metea Valley. East Aurora was third with 39.5
Neuqua won eight of the 10 singles titles and three of five doubles crowns. Senior Jaya Prakash led the way by beating Metea Valley’s Emily Dixon 24-22, 21-18 for the No. 3 singles championship.
“I’m happy and excited,” Prakash said. “We’re a close team. We know each other so well and we’ve built friendships that I think are going to last a really long time. All of these girls are like family to me and I trust them with everything in my life, so I think that’s what helped us.”
The Wildcats also received singles titles from Sophia Li at No. 4, Chung at No. 5, Zi-Yi Choo at No. 6, Eva Chen at No. 7, Meghna Nagam at No. 8, Tiffany Jeung at No. 9 and Lizzie Koshelev at No. 10. Tia McClain won the No. 2 singles crown.