Sometimes celebrations are so triumphant, they cut off air flow.
Shuhang Xia knows that first-hand. The Great Neck South senior was the No. 2 singles player for the Rebels powerhouse badminton squad this spring, and when she finished off her win at the Long Island Championships on June 1 against Ward Melville, coach Allison Gottfried ran over and embraced Xia in a big bearhug.
“She squeezed me so hard I could barely breathe,” Xia said, laughing. “But it was a great hug and we were all so excited.”
Xia and her teammates had reason to rejoice, after just finishing a second straight dominant run through Long Island in their sport.
Great Neck South, led by Gottfried, a former member of the Pat McCarrick Miller Place dynasty, rolled through the regular season and playoffs with 16 consecutive wins, and only lost two matches in the playoff run, both in a 5-2 win over Jericho in the Nassau County championship.
Led by Nassau County individual singles champ Kayla Wu, Xia, and some youngsters in doubles, Great Neck South showed its powerhouse program isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
“These young women were so talented and worked very hard on their mental game, to stay tough and composed,” Gottfried said. “We had some players move around the lineup this year and they all handled it so well.”
While Xia and Wu, a junior, are veteran players, it was a pair of freshmen who surprised and impressed the most this spring. Ninth graders Hannah Cheng and Emma Ding have been friends for years, and decided to present themselves as a doubles team when the season started.
They not only clicked immediately but won the county doubles title.
“We make a good team because she’s really good in the front, and I’m better in the back,” Cheng said. “We’ve always preferred playing (doubles) so we thought this would be a good chance for us this year, and the team was great and accepted us right away.”
Ding said she and Cheng have trained together for three years, and that their chemistry and friendship off the court helps them on the court.
“We’re pretty good at knowing what the other person is going to do and where they’re going to be,” Ding said.
“They were a surprise that they were so good together,” Gottfried said. “Many of the kids who train and come up have experience in singles, so to get a doubles team like them who know their rotations and play well together was a huge boost for us.”
The players said there was some pressure to win, since Great Neck South is usually favored, but that the maturity of the team shone during tough moments.
“We practice hard and so we’re ready for tough matches,” Cheng said. “We knew Jericho would be tough and so beating them was very exciting, and then the Long Island championship, everything went very well.”
Gottfried credited the maturity of Wu and Xia as big reasons the team succeeded.
“She really came into her own this year and became much more of a leader and more outgoing,” Gottfried said. “We really had such a great group and I’m really proud of all of them.”