Photo by Bill Roseberry
The Alton Redbird girls’ golf team poses behind the banner at the Class AA state tournament on Oct. 18 at Hickory Point Golf Club in Decatur.
It was a surreal run for the Alton girls’ golf team and East Alton-Wood River boys’ squad in 2014.
The Redbirds had been grooming for the program’s second-ever state berth the last couple of years and finally hit paydirt. The Oilers, on the other hand, are just as happy to boast the program’s first-ever trip to state.
Alton earned its spot at the Class AA girls’ state tournament on Oct. 17 and 18 at Decatur’s Hickory Point Golf Club by winning the program’s first sectional at the Champaign Centennial Sectional.
It’s been a four-year roller coaster ride for the Birds, who went from winning one match in 2011 to only losing two total between ‘13 and ‘14.
“It was definitely a process,” AHS head coach Carey Cappel said. “The talent was there. Four out of the five seniors started with me when they were 14 years old. These girls have worked extremely hard. Thousands of golf balls hit, countless hours on the golf course, on the driving range, playing on their own; it’s come completely full circle.”
At the top of the lineup, this season has been a talented trio of seniors. Tori Hays, Natalie Long and Courtney Hachmann have rotated as medalists many times in ‘14. Long medaled at the Southwestern Conference Tournament and led at state, Hays medaled at regionals and Hachmann led the Birds at the sectional.
“We’re just a really hard-working group of girls, and coach Cappel has been a huge help,” Long said of Alton’s evolution. “We’ve come a long way.”
AHS shot its way to 10th at state, firing a two-day total of 699. Long (164), Hachmann (166), Hays (167), Ashley Orr (202), Samantha Patton (217) and Morgan Bemis (233) rounded out the lineup at state. Only Bemis, a freshman, is an underclassman.
The Redbirds were on track to make the state field a year ago, but a rough day left Alton in eighth place at sectionals. It was a different course and a different day in ‘14, but winning the sectional offered a bit of redemption.
“It was a different course. The course last year was much harder,” Hays said. “It was nice we all played good and it was good redemption.”
Cappel choked back tears reminiscing what this group has meant to her and to Alton. She thinks they’ve stamped the program with a lasting legacy.
“I think they’ll leave behind their work ethic,” she said. “If you went out on the course you would see those (top) three out there. They have respect for the game and I just hope people can look at Alton golf and as a team where the expectations are, because they’ve set the bar really high. If you persevere and work hard, the opportunities are endless and they proved that this weekend and last weekend. Man, it was a fun ride.”
The experience of playing in the Class 1A boys’ state tournament will benefit the Oilers.
Take it from EA-WR head coach Dave Sobol. He said the two-day trip to Prairie Vista Golf Course in Bloomington last week was a worthwhile venture.
“These kids have done something that can never be broken — they were the first ones from our school to make it to state,” Sobol said. “I’m sure they will look at it years from now and realize what it means to them.
“And I hope the (state) experience fires up a lot of kids to play golf.”
The Oilers concluded a 26-6 season by finishing 11th in the small-school state finals. They shot a 716 score for 36 holes after placing second in the Trenton Wesclin Sectional.
EA-WR took third in the Metro East Lutheran Regional and battled Marquette Catholic to the wire for the Prairie State Conference tourney title. The Explorers won it via a tiebreaker.
“I couldn’t be prouder of what our kids did this season,” Sobol said. “They put in a lot of hours of practice and it paid off for them.”
Brett Gaines, their top scorer in the sectional and at state, graduates. So does Jake Hei. Sophomores Drew Sobol and Brendon Allen, plus junior Hunter O’Brien, return.
“I’m as proud of this group as any one — in any sport — that I’ve coached,” Sobol said. “It was huge going to state and we got the ship righted the second day. I was happy with that because we were more relaxed after the first day.”
Sobol also serves as the EA-WR wrestling coach and guides the Lewis and Clark Community College men’s golf program.
Meanwhile, Roxana senior Zack Moore finished his career in style, placing 28th in the 2A finals at Weibring Golf Course in Normal. He shot 159 on the Illinois State University course to wrap up a banner career.
Moore also repeated as champion of the Hickory Stick Invitational this fall.
“Zack is a power player and very good at course management,” Shells’ coach Jeff Pare said.
Marquette’s Carlee Cronin also represented the Explorers as an individual at the A girls’ state finals. The junior Cronin fired a two-day score of 186 to tie for 67th overall at Decatur’s Red Tail Run Golf Course.
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