Crystal Lake Central co-op's Molly Lyne felt the same thrill, excitement and relief as she did two years ago when she first qualified for the state's biggest stage in high school golf as a freshman at Cary-Grove.
Now a junior with a lot more confidence, Lyne sees herself as one of the state's top contenders.
"Freshman year, I was shy. I was nervous," Lyne said. "This year, it feels like I’m a top contender. I shouldn’t have any added pressure on myself. I love that course. I think it fits my game well. I’m very comfortable with it."
Lyne and Kat Bevill – a senior at Crystal Lake Central making her debut – are the only two local golfers competing in the Class 2A girls golf state tournament at Hickory Point in Forsyth, which begins Friday.
New this year, the top 24 individuals and ties not on advancing teams will move on to the second round Saturday. The measure, which was aimed at improving pace of play on Day 2, was approved by the Illinois High School Board of Directors in June and will cut the field by about one-third.
Additionally, only the top eight qualifying teams (of 12), and ties, will advance.
Lyne finished third at state two years ago, becoming only the fifth local girls golfer to place in the top five at state, joining Richmond-Burton's Mackenzie Hahn (2015, 2016), Hampshire’s Connie Ellett (2011) and Crystal Lake Central’s Lexi Harkins (2010, 2011) and Meredith Ward (1997).
Lyne tied for 12th last year.
Making it back isn't something she takes for granted.
"For me, it’s just as exciting as freshman and sophomore year," Lyne said. "I love the state experience. It showcases the best players in Illinois, and it’s a big privilege to be able to play at state. Sectionals is one day, and you never know how it’s going go. To pull off a good score is a big weight off your shoulders."
Lyne said she feels "10 times more confident than freshman year." That year, Lyne was tied for first entering the second round after shooting a 1-under-par 71 in her debut. She finished three shots off the lead.
"I think I’ve come a long way," Lyne said. "I used to get upset about a score or a shot, and let it screw me up the rest of the round. Now, I just walk away from anything I don’t like. It motivates me."
Tigers coach Kyle McCaughn agrees.
"One shot used to tear her apart," McCaughn said. "Now she realizes she can make it up on her next shot. It’s no longer a concern for her. She just needs to stay consistent and stay the course."
CLASS 2A BOYS
Lyne and Bevill are not the only two local golfers teeing off this weekend.
Crystal Lake South qualified for the Class 2A boys state tournament at Weibring in Normal, taking second at regionals and sectionals. Prairie Ridge's Dominic Leli – making his second state appearance – and Grant Klepitsch also qualified.
The Gators won the Fox Valley Conference for the first time since 2010. This is their first state trip in 16 years and fifth in program history. They won the Class AA state title in 1980 and took third in 1981 and 1998.
At sectionals, senior Griffin Coakley raced back and forth from the 18th green to where all the scores were posted as the final results came in.
"It's been a really fun season; we didn't want it to end," Coakley said. "It means a lot to make one trip down for senior season with all of my friends. We're going to do everything we can, and we're just going to live in the moment, focus on one swing at a time."
Will Stewart, who finished with a 4-over-par 76 at sectionals – along with teammate and junior John Lishchynsky – to lead the Gators, was most happy for the team's three seniors: Coakley, Casey Hunter and Eric Bregenzer.
Junior Ethan Wiggs (78) and sophomore Ricky Falbo (82) also scored at sectionals.
"It's pretty special, especially for the seniors," said Stewart, a sophomore. "It was pretty fun watching Griffin run from the 18th green to the scoreboard. It's always been a goal of theirs.
"We've all known each other since sixth or seventh grade. Griffin and Casey always told me this was going to be the year we were going to do it, so it was pretty special to help get that done for them."
Coach Curt Wadlington thinks the Gators have another level.
"I still don’t think they’re fully clicking, but yet we keep advancing," Wadlington said after South finished runner-up at sectionals with a team score of 312, nine shots behind the winner. "If this team clicks, I think they’ve got a good chance to do something.”
CLASS 3A BOYS
In Class 3A, Jacobs senior Garrett Tighe and McHenry junior Truman Keppy are each making their second straight appearance. Huntley senior Jack Wagner is going for the first time and is the program's first state qualifier since Trent Craig in 2014.
Tighe is hoping to go out with a bang in his season year at The Den at Fox Creek in Bloomington. He will head to Iowa next fall to play golf.
"I want to place top 10," said Tighe, who tied with Keppy for 14th last year, carding a 5-over par for two rounds. "If I make top five or win, that would be the big goal, obviously, but just play well overall is what I'm looking to do."
Keppy had to make it through a one-hole playoff at sectionals Tuesday to make his state return.
"My heart was pumping, but I was so relaxed after," Keppy said of advancing again. "I felt like a new person almost. It means a lot to me, making it back down again with a great group of guys."
CLASS 1A GIRLS
Three more local golfers will play at the Class 1A girls golf state meet at Red Tail Run in Decatur. Richmond-Burton senior Lauryn Davis and Elgin Academy senior Neha Karna, who lives in Crystal Lake, are both going for the second time, and Johnsburg sophomore Ellie Johnson is making her first trip.
Karna, who finished third at sectionals with an 81, tied for 32nd at state last year. She's hoping that experience will go a long way.
"It means a lot to make it back," Karna said. "I'm just looking forward to this opportunity to play at such a competitive level again. I remember not being so nervous last year, and being aggressive.
"It was such a blast last year. I know it's going to be a lot of fun."
Class 3A Boys Golf State Tournament
Friday and Saturday, at The Den at Fox Creek in Bloomington
Local teams: None
Local golfers: Garrett Tighe, Jacobs, sr.; Jack Wagner, Huntley, sr.,; Truman Keppy, McHenry, jr.
Class 2A Boys Golf State Tournament
Friday and Saturday, at Weibring at Illinois State University in Normal
Local teams: Crystal Lake South
Local golfers: Dominic Leli, Prairie Ridge, sr.; Grant Klepitsch, Prairie Ridge, jr.
Class 2A Girls Golf State Tournament
Friday and Saturday, at Hickory Point in Decatur
Local teams: None
Local golfers: Kat Bevill, Crystal Lake Central co-op, sr.; Molly Lyne, Crystal Lake Central co-op, jr.
Class 1A Girls Golf State Tournament
Friday at Saturday, at Red Tail Run in Decatur
Local teams: None
Local golfers: Lauryn Davis, Richmond-Burton, sr.; Neha Karna, Elgin Academy, sr.; Ellie Johnson, Johnsburg, so.