Moments after winning the Class 2A Grayslake Sectional championship, one Prairie Ridge boys golfer thought out loud on the bus ride home, “Man, if it feels this good to win right now, imagine what it will feel like to win state.”
The Wolves will get their chance when the Class 2A state tournament tees off Friday morning at Weibring Golf Club at Illinois State University in Normal.
For the first time in program history, Prairie Ridge brings its entire team to the state tournament. The Wolves have come close before only to fall short, missing by four shots in 2014, eight shots in 2015 and six shots last year.
“For high school golfers, state is the big one,” fifth-year coach Jonathan Powell said. “I’m just really glad this group made it because they would have been really bummed if they didn’t. This has been a goal of theirs for a long time now. They rose to the challenge that was presented to them.”
Senior Cameron Karney, who posted a 2-over-par 74 to place second individually at sectionals, has been a part of the past three sectional teams that fell short of state. He advanced to the 3A tournament individually last year and tied for 23rd overall, but making it there as a team doesn’t compare, he said.
Prairie Ridge dropped to Class 2A this year, with the school’s enrollment of 1,457 just below the Class 2A maximum of 1,487.
“When you really want to do something, get so close and can’t quite get there, it kind of hurts,” Karney said. “And we had three years of that. ... It’s definitely a different feeling (to go as a team). I was happy to go down last year, but I feel so much happier that I’m going with my entire team.”
Powell said this year’s team has rallied around each other. Prairie Ridge lost the Fox Valley Conference Tournament championship to Jacobs, 288-297, but remained focused on the bigger picture: state.
“They’re just a great group of kids to be around,” Powell said. “They’re all golf junkies. They pick each other up if someone has a down day.”
At the Grayslake Sectional, it was Karney who led the Wolves, as he has for most of the season. Senior James Michaelson came through with a 4-over-par 76, junior Dominic Leli had an 81, and senior Joe Thompson had an 87.
At regionals, it was senior Jason Giffels who stepped up with an 83. Prairie Ridge won with a 329, four strokes ahead of Boylan (333) to secure the program’s second straight regional title.
As Karney finished his sectional round on the 18th green Tuesday at Stonewall Orchard Golf Club, Michaelson ran up to Karney, told him to drop his golf bag and gave him a chest bump.
That’s how close the team has been all year, Karney said.
“We just all really enjoy playing golf together, but it’s more than that,” Karney said. “These guys have been my best friends pretty much all my life. We all get along well, and we all hang out on and off the course, before and after golf.”
Now, this group of Wolves has one last chance to play together on the biggest stage. Powell expects his team to be loose and fun-going as always.
“We’re going to go and have a good time, and just get our practice round in,” Powell said. “We’re just so happy to qualify right now. We’ve played two really hard courses leading into state. It was fun to get through them.”
Karney said they won’t worry about the scores of any other teams and will approach the state tournament with the same mentality they have all season.
“We’ve just got to play our game,” Karney said. “We can’t think too far ahead of ourselves. You can’t get too caught up in the moment. You’ve got to realize that it’s great to be down there, but you’ve got to keep your head down and play your game.”
ON HIS GAME
Jacobs junior Garrett Tighe has fired a couple of rounds in the 60s this year, but none as big as Monday’s 3-under 69 at the Class 3A Warren Sectional at Bittersweet in Gurnee.
Tighe, who missed state by one shot as a freshman and four shots as a sophomore, beat Stevenson’s Jackson Bussell in a one-hole playoff to earn top honors and advance to Friday’s Class 3A state tournament at The Den at Fox Creek in Bloomington for the first time.
Tighe said he didn’t have any real nerves going into the playoff. He’s had plenty of experience in big summer tournaments, such as Illinois Junior Golf Association and Mid-American Junior Golf Tour events.
Jacobs coach Gary Conrad said that Tighe always has possessed the talent of a state qualifier. Now, he’s excited to see him go up against some of the top golfers in the state.
“I’m really excited for him,” said Conrad, who had Tighe as a freshman. “I know his parents are super excited, and he’s happy, too. We can’t wait to get down there and give it a shot, see if he can place and possibly win it. You never know.”
Tighe said his countless hours of work with John Perna at the Players Service in Downers Grove helped a lot this year. “They do pretty much everything to help you and make you a better golfer,” he said. “From helping with my golf swing, to the mental parts of the game ... all kinds of stuff.”
Joining Tighe are McHenry sophomore Truman Keppy and Dundee-Crown senior JP Anderson. Keppy shot a 77 at sectionals, while Anderson (78) survived a four-golfer playoff for the final three spots.
Keppy finds himself at the state meet despite playing golf competitively for only 15 months. He made it to sectionals last year, and that fueled him to make it one step further as a sophomore.
“It’s been hard work for me all throughout my golf career,” Keppy said. “It’s been my coaches constantly pushing me to get to the next level. It’s been working, and hopefully it keeps going.”
Anderson didn’t have the senior season he envisioned, with his scores higher than what he’s normally used to, but that all changed Monday with his first state berth in his final chance.
“My scores haven’t been very good at all, to be honest,” Anderson said. “I’ve had a couple of good rounds here and there. But I didn’t do well in regionals, I didn’t do well in conference. [Monday at sectionals], I was hitting the ball very well. As long as I’m hitting my driver well, I have a really good chance of posting something low, and that happened today.”
BACK FOR MORE
Crystal Lake Central co-op’s Molly Lyne was in danger of missing the state cut, but was relieved to find out she made it with a 79 at the Class 2A Barrington Sectional on Monday.
Lyne, a sophomore at Cary-Grove, will be the only local girls golfer competing at the Class 2A state tournament at Hickory Point in Decatur. Last season, the super freshman placed third at state with a two-day score of 144 (even par). She was three strokes behind the winner.
Lyne said she is looking forward to going back to the course she played so well on as a freshman. Lyne placed third at regionals with a 75, and her 79 at sectionals tied her for 14th.
“The experience helps a ton,” Lyne said. “I was thrilled to get third, and I didn’t think that I could do it, to be honest. I literally just went out there and played. I didn’t really think about it. I wasn’t too nervous until the end. I’m looking forward to getting out to the range as soon as I can to practice. I love that course, as well. I’m excited to play that course again.”
In Class 1A, Johnsburg senior Lauren Winter will compete at the state meet at Red Tail Run in Decatur. Winter and the Skyhawks made it to state last year as a team, with Winter tying for 47th overall. She carded an 81 on Day 1, putting her in a tie for 18th at the time.
Winter had an 88 at the Stillman Valley Sectional to advance to her second consecutive state meet after tying for fifth at regionals with an 86. She said she is looking forward to having her team there for support, even though they didn’t all advance.
“It would have been nice to have the team go being my senior year,” she said, “but to go down and have the support from the team means a lot.”
Elgin Academy junior Neha Karna, who is a Crystal Lake resident, also qualified for the Class 1A state tournament after shooting 86 at the Stillman Valley Sectional.