Sara Gwillim started the golf season in a winning way.
The Civic Memorial senior finished first in the small-school portion of the Madison County Tournament in Granite City.
She finished it in a bigger manner.
Gwillim placed 10th at state in the Class 1A finals in Decatur.
So from beginning to end the past fall, Gwillim enjoyed a memorable fall. That’s why she has been chosen as the AdVantage News Girls’ Golfer of the Year.
“The highlight of the season was finishing 10th at state and being an All-Stater,” Gwillim said. “I did more than I thought I could do this season.”
Eagles’ coach Jane Middleton figured Gwillim was destined for a banner season. The All-State honor validated it. The top 10 finishers in Class 1A earned All-State status.
“What’s great about it is that Sara is the only golfer in CM history that is an All-Stater,” Middleton said proudly. The CM girls’ golf program, as a full team and not just a few individuals, dates to 1997.
Middleton said practice made it perfect for Gwillim to enjoy plenty of success. Gwillim played frequently at the Cloverleaf Course, where she works doing a number of assignments.
“Sara golfed every day in the summer and would putt and chip for hours,” Middleton said. “She was any coach’s dream.”
Gwillim’s dream came true at state when she carded a 165 score to share 10th place with Tia Kimbrough of Belleville Althoff. Gwillim posted rounds of 82 and 83 to finish 13 strokes behind IHSA champion Maddie Hunt of Elmhurst IC Catholic.
“When I first went to state, I had no idea where I could finish,” Gwillim said. “After the first day, I was in 11th place and thought I might have a chance to finish in the top 10 and make All-State.”
When she did break into the top 10, Gwillim cherished it.
“It was a little surreal,” she said.
Yet she savored another achievement as much as the state showing. Gwillim captured the Mississippi Valley Conference championship, needing a one-hole playoff to accomplish it.
“I really enjoyed winning the conference because it was one of my goals. But it was very nerve-wracking,” Gwillim said of her playoff victory against Haley Faus of Waterloo. Faus finished sixth in the Class 1A IHSA finals and also secured All-State honors.
Middleton added, “Sara also had a second in the Marquette Blast-Off, second in the Yorktown Tournament, was fifth in the regional and eighth in the sectional.”
During the season, Gwillim averaged 40.0 strokes for 9 holes and 81 for 18. Her best round was a 75 at the Belk Park Course in Wood River.
“I was super happy with that round at Belk,” Gwillim said.
And happy as she could be with her senior season.
“I think everybody wants to have a good senior year because it’s your last year,” Gwillim said. “It’s what you work for — to win.”
This winter, she is serving as manager of the girls’ basketball team. There will be some upcoming work at Cloverleaf and then an opportunity to play collegiate golf.
McKendree University in Lebanon is a possibility. So are a couple of schools in North Carolina. Gwillim plans to major in sports management.
“Playing golf has helped to make me more mature and it also taught me about having a good work ethic,” Gwillim said.
When she eventually looks back on her prep career, Gwillim can point to a strong season. And it concluded just about the way she sought to end it. Others noticed.
“When I came back to school after state, it was pretty cool because people were congratulating me about it,” Gwillim said. “They knew about state.”