BELLEVILLE — Althoff High School girls golf coach Tim Gehrs admits that he would like to take a least a little credit for the success of the Crusaders program in recent years.
A perennial title contender in the South Seven Conference, Althoff has become one of the elite programs in Southern Illinois under Gehrs and assistant coach and wife Mona, whose laid-back style has proven to be highly effective.
"I try to be there for the girls and help them as much as I can with their golf swings. I tell them what I want them to do during the summer, but they are the ones who play in leagues and tournaments and spend hours at a time working on their games,'' Gehrs said. "I would love to take the credit. But I can't.
"The credit goes to the girls and their parents who provide them the opportunity to play this great game.''
Althoff should once again be one of the top teams in the metro-east this season. Gehrs has five of his top six players back from a year ago, including a pair of top players in senior Jordan Lewis and junior Abigail Irwin to lead the way.
The Crusaders captain, Lewis returns after winning the South Seven Conference title last year. Lewis is currently playing the No. 2 spot behind Irwin.
"Jordan Lewis is our captain and she's done a great job of becoming a leader on this team," Gehrs said. "She's a four-year starter who has worked hard and now she's one of the better players in the area."
Irwin, whose younger sister Alaina also is on the team, should be one of the top players in the area. The Irwins come from an athletic family, as their mother, Beth, was a former standout tennis player at Belleville East.
"The Irwin sisters get a lot of their athletic ability from their mother,'' Gehrs said. "The family lives at The Orchards and I know they both work on their games and play a lot of golf.
"I expect Abigail to be in the low 40s and to shoot in the low 80s for 18 holes. Being a junior, if she could get into the 30s and maybe have an occasional 18-hole score in the 70s, that would be great.''
Junior Madison Weilbacher and sophomore Gabby David are battling for the No. 3 spot. Weilbacher, a three-sport athlete, spent most of her summer working on her golf game.
"Madison is a great athlete and this summer I asked her not to play softball and to work on her golf game. She did that and her game has really improved,'' Gehrs said. "Gabby (David) has also improved her game as well. Her dad (Dale) is the head professional at The Orchards and he tells me that Gabby spends most of her team either working at the course or working on her game. As a coach that's what you love to hear.''
Gehrs also knows that his job is made easier by the work his players do with the area's teaching professionals.
"My top five players all have their own professionals. Guys like Dale (David), Dan (Polites) and Randy Phillips do a tremendous job of working with these girls on their swings,'' Gehrs said. "Like I said, I'd like to take credit for the success, but these guys are guys who work with the kids on their games.''
Alaina Irwin is the Crusaders No. 5 player and may be the most improved player on the team according to Gehrs, who added that others such as senior Kalysa Santos, junior Katie McKinty and sophomore Heather Gosebrink could all post some low scores this season.
Gehrs said teams like Edwardsville, Highland, Nashville and O'Fallon should be among the best in the area once again. As for his own team, Gehrs is optimistic.
"We've got eight girls on this team and I expect them all to contribute this season,'' Gehrs said. "The attitudes have been outstanding and we're looking forward to a good year."