East Aurora's McClain sisters to make last stand at state
East Aurora sisters Tia and Amber McClain will try to become the first doubles team in school history to earn a medal at this weekend's state finals in what will be their last time taking the court together.
East Aurora badminton players Tia and Amber McClain will take the court together for the final time this weekend at the state finals at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
The sisters have set the lofty goal of becoming the first doubles team in school history to earn state medals. To do so, they would have to finish in the top six, a daunting prospect for a team that has never won a match at state.
Tia, a senior, and Amber, a junior, qualified for state last season and went 1-2 in their finals debut. They didn’t feel any pressure then but the story is different now that history beckons and Tia’s graduation looms.
“I’m actually kind of nervous,” Amber McClain said. “It feels like a lot of pressure but I feel like I can push through it.
“I think as long as we try to not get so uptight we’ll be fine. If we play our own game, then we should be a shoo-in [for a medal].”
The McClains are unseeded despite a 40-10 record. They won the Upstate Eight title and finished second at the Naperville North Sectional, leaving East Aurora coach Wendell Jeffries optimistic about their chances.
“If we get a good draw and they play well, we are capable of placing,” Jeffries said. “That will be our goal. We talked about how in the past we would have our goal be just to make it to Saturday, but I think we’re better than the final 16.”
The McClains, who will open against Reavis’ Rocheni Calalang and Elizabeth Doory, were introduced to badminton by their sister, Vaevae Woods, who graduated from East in 2012. They’ve been playing together for three years and complement each other well.
“People say we have this weird twin telepathy going but I think it’s because we’ve been playing with each other for so long,’ Amber said. “I know where to go and sometimes she will drop it and tell me to go up even though she’s already going up, I know that she wants me to go back.”
Amber is the more aggressive of the pair while Tia, who plans to major in education at Northern Illinois, is more of a thinker.
“It’s fun knowing that she’s pushing me the whole time,” Tia said. “In the games I talk and she hardly says anything but she’s more dominant in the game. If she misses a shot, I’ll get behind her and get it, or vice versa.”
Jeffries said that combination of athleticism and brains has keyed the sisters’ success.
“They play well together and they’re actually very smart players,” Jeffries said. “They make good adjustments on the court. They’re dedicated and they work extremely hard.”
The McClains are hoping that work pays off this weekend. The only Tomcat to earn a medal was Shanika Young, who took fifth in singles in 2001.
“[Placing] would be great,” Amber said. “Then I could have something that I could say that I got with my sister and it would be great because it’s her senior year and she could say that she placed in state, going out with a bang.”
Other Aurora-area qualifiers
Singles – Geneva senior Melanie Burkhardt, Oswego East junior Leena Hwang, Metea Valley sophomore Moriah Gau.
Doubles – Geneva seniors Cara Birschbach/Nila Kannankeril (seeded 9-12), Geneva seniors Elena Kelly/Halle Marten, Oswego seniors Sydney Blount/Olivia Lewis, Oswego senior Anne Fish and junior Alisa Muerer, Metea Valley seniors Emily Dixon/Alyssa Funk.