Girls racquetball team makes a racquet at state

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Courtesy of Elle Dignam

Following a first place finish at the state tournament, the girls racquetball team celebrates their win by raising their trophy. The team participated in the JV1 bracket and hoped to move up to the varsity level next season. “It felt good to know that we were the best team on JV1, only making us more positive we are ready for varsity next year, at least with a lot of hard work,” junior Graci Badami said. “I think about all the varsity players from last year, and some of my teammates from this year, and I strive to do what they do so effortlessly. I also enjoy practicing and working to get better because it’s such a fun sport.”

State champions. This title, only won by very few high school athletes over the course of their careers, is one that many members of the girls racquetball team never believed they could achieve. Despite an unprecedented season, they found themselves completely dominating any and all opponents throughout the regular season. The team put all complications aside and found themselves with a first place overall finish at the state tournament. 

Even with there being no guarantee of a state tournament, members of the JV1 team—the highest ranking players in the program—continued to practice, play games and improve their racquetball skills. Racquetball did not have a varsity team this year, as there were not enough students participating who could compete at the varsity level. 

“We were just really happy we got to play at all. To find out we would have state was huge for us because they canceled all of our tournaments throughout the season, which was a bummer because that’s a lot of where your game gets better,” junior Elle Dignam said. “[Tournaments are] what brought up my game to where it is now, so the fact that they were all canceled and we still got first at state is pretty amazing.”

In addition to the team’s tournaments being canceled, their end-of-year national tournament, scheduled to take place in St. Louis was also called off. 

“I’ve always heard about nationals as such a fun experience, even if you don’t do as well, so I was holding out hope for it to happen this year. I was so excited for not just nationals this year, but nationals next year, because they were supposed to be in Portland, Ore. and I’ve heard so many fun stories about Portland,” junior Graci Badami said. 

Due to the cancellation of nationals, the 2022 national tournament has been moved from Portland back to St. Louis. 

“[Portland] is really where all the fun is. Everyone is in hotels together and it’s so exciting to be able to travel and go around in a new city with all your friends,” Dignam said. “But the one good thing about it being in St. Louis is not everyone can afford to go to Portland. So it’s a much smaller team and the bigger the team, the better. So it’s cool to have it in St. Louis just for the reason that everyone gets to participate.” 

Following a series of single elimination matches, Dignam found herself in the champion match in her individual bracket. Although she was able to take the match to three sets, each played first to 15 points, she ended up placing second place overall, helping the entire team to a first place finish. 

“For me personally, the only reason I started playing racquetball was because I got cut from the volleyball team. I didn’t have a sport anymore and I picked it up just because I had nothing else to do. I never expected to win something like this and it was super exciting to be able to,” Dignam said. “I didn’t even know what to do because we were just posing for pictures and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t win at things.’ It was cool to see everyone come together like that. Our group was so close-knit which made the whole experience that much better.”

When we finally got to see our trophy and hold it together, it made me feel like I was the best at something. It was just simply a different feeling—I’m not even sure how to describe it.”

— Graci Badami

Because of the bracket system put in place, not one person or game decided the outcome of the tournament. Players were evaluated by their skills at the beginning of the season and were given a ranking within the program. That ranking determined who each player will be up against at games and tournaments. Therefore, every person on the team contributed to the victory. 

“For me, it felt solidifying. It was an exhilarating day. When we finally got to see our trophy and hold it together, it made me feel like I was the best at something,” Badami said. “I played a lot of sports growing up, but I didn’t necessarily ever win a trophy as big as that, let alone first place. It was just simply a different feeling—I’m not even sure how to describe it.”

The racquetball team is currently recruiting new members for both their boys and girls teams and welcomes anyone who thinks they can bring positivity to the team on and off the court. 

“I’m hoping that because we won state, people are going to realize that racquetball is a legitimate sport and it deserves more recognition. A lot of people have said in the past that racquetball is a ‘nerd sport,’ which is frustrating because when you put it like that, who would want to join our team? Having that reputation is so frustrating because that label could drive people away from it, which is so sad since it’s such an awesome sport and our community is so inclusive towards everyone,” Dignam said. “If you are a person who isn’t very athletic and want to increase your athleticism, this is the perfect sport for you. I’ve played a lot of sports in the past, and I’ve always been very average at them. This is the one sport where no matter what your skill level is, you can totally flourish in it. It’s challenging, but it’s 100% worth it.”