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Andrea Li‘s badminton star continues to shine very brightly.

The Uni High sophomore has qualified for the 29th Pan Am Junior Championships as a U17 singles and mixed doubles representative of the United States. The showcase of North American and South American athletes runs from July 19 through July 23 in Acapulco, Mexico.

“It’s still hard to believe, kind of, because this is the dream,” Li said. “This is what you want when you’re playing the tournaments, and this is what I’ve been training for, so I’m really happy about it.”

Li earned entry into the event by placing second in the U.S. Junior Nationals tournament’s U17 singles draw last month in North Carolina. She’ll play alongside Neil Ganguly in doubles action.

That marked Li’s first tournament appearance since she placed second in the IHSA girls’ state tournament back in March during singles play. She was the only local competitor to participate in that event and left quite the impression based on her stellar play.

“I’ve gotten better during this period of time, just training,” Li said. “It was good to have that validation at state, and then it just inspired me to train more and fix more things before junior nationals.”

Li played in two previous junior nationals tournaments, but those did not include the prize of advancing to the Pan Am Junior Championships.

“They announced a month ago they were going to play junior nationals, which is usually the biggest tournament of the year, but they were also going to use it to pick the top four from the tourney in each age group (to qualify for the Pan Am Junior Championships),” Li said. “It was kind of intimidating walking in. ... You really didn’t know what to expect.”

Li has been to Mexico once before but never has played in a tournament outside the U.S. She said the singles field contains 65 athletes, and she’s confident she can fare well among the talented crop.

“I’m hoping to get to the finals — maybe first place — because usually the U.S. does extremely well in this tournament. So I’m hoping my level from junior nationals is reflected in this tournament,” Li said. “It’s super exciting. This is, I guess, one the best things that’s ever happened to me, so I’m really hoping it goes well.”

If it does, Li’s badminton journey will continue to flourish. And the international trips will likely become common.

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

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