For Highland senior golfer Rece Portell, her experience at the IHSA Class 1A Girls State Golf Tournament at Red Tail Run Golf Course in Decatur last weekend was more than about what score she shot or where she ended up placing.
Just for the record, Portell finished in 64th place out of 111 competitors in Class 1A with a two-round total of 182. A big bright spot is that on Saturday she shot 12 shots better with a solid round of 85 on after turning in a 97 in Friday’s first round.
“It was pretty windy (Saturday) and a lot of the tees were from the men’s tees,” Portell said. “I thought it was a really good way to end the season and I hit the ball well. It was just an honor and cool experience to be there really. I wouldn’t say I was that nervous. It’s state so everybody there is good at golf. We don’t all play perfect every day so there’s no need to stress. I didn’t want to end my last tournament worrying about my score, I just wanted to enjoy it.”
Hirsch she has spend the last four years with Portell and she gave her retiring coach a nice going away present in winning the Mississippi Valley Conference championship as a team and as an individual before going on to advance through the regional and sectional and finish with Hirsch’s final state appearance.
Hirsch is now officially retired and leaves the Lady Bulldogs after leading them to a 433-108 record in head-to-head matches in 20 years at the helm.
Practice and first round
Portell and coach Gina Hirsch left on Thursday to head to Red Tail Run Golf Course in Decatur for a practice round. Hirsch said the conditions were pretty cool but there was no wind so the course was playing pretty easy.
“We got paired up with some really nice girls which made the practice round go pretty well,” Hirsch said. “Rece was hitting a lot of greens in regulation and she was putting with confidence and a good touch. When we left that night, Rece was feeling pretty good.”
Then mother nature threw them a curve ball with some pretty windy conditions that mad the golf course play longer. Portell is not a long hitter but one that usually keeps the ball in the fairway. Portell started on the 10th hole which is the more difficult of the two sides. She was 6-over par going into the difficult 18th hole, which is a long hole of 476 yards but was playing much longer because you were hitting into winds of 15 miles per hour.
Portell found the water and the bunkers on this hole and ended up taking a nine on the hole to put her at 46.
“Mentally, it got the best of her and she then tripled (bogeyed) holes one and two and then got back to bogeys for the next two,” Hirsch said. “Her tee shots were great but her approach shots weren’t getting finished so she was shanking to the right and coming up short. She gutted out the last couple holes to shoot 51 on the front side which put her at 97.”
That landed her in 70th place for after day one.
Hirsch said it was more a confidence thing rather than form. She and her dad talked about it and when she got to the driving range she was back to hitting good, quality shots.
Hirsch said Portell got lucky to get grouped with two terrific kids in the second round.
“These kids were talking and having a good time while playing some great golf,” Hirsch said. “You could tell these kids were pretty evenly matched and were great ambassadors of the game. Everyone showed great sportsmanship when they hit bad shots. The girls rooted each other on. The parents got to know one another and they were cheering for the whole group. In our world today, that is not always the case.”
On the front nine, Portell really hit her stride and shot a 41 which was 10 strokes better than the day before. Portell’s highlight of the day, and perhaps the entire tourney, was on the par 5 second hole. She hit her third shot onto the green and it kind of rimmed by the cup for a short birdie putt. Portell drained it for her birdie.
Her 85 put her in 64th place for the tournament.
“It was a lot of fun meeting new people and seeing some really great golf,” Hirsch said. “If you are going to make the top three at the state tournament, you have to commit yourself just to golf. There are kids up there that have swing coaches, sport psychology coaches, and profressionals as coaches. I feel that Rece represented our school well and she made some new friends.”
Making the cut for state
Portell shot an 88 and tied for 10th place to grab one of the last two state-qualifying spots at the IHSA Class 1A Alton Marquette Sectional Monday, Oct. 9 at Spencer T. Olin Golf Course.
“Obviously with it being senior year it’s do or die,” Portell said. “Before yesterday, I felt I had proved so much already with winning conference and taking fifth in the regional. Simply getting to state had been a goal of mine since I just missed it my freshman year. I really hit the ball well (at the sectional) and in the end it came down to putting.”
Portell also wanted to give credit to coach Hirsch for doing such a good job with scheduling.
“She made sure to include plenty of 18-hole tournaments and a match at Spencer T Olin in order to prepare all of us,” Portell said of Hirsch.
What is also very special is that Portell has now qualified for state in all three of her sports throughout her high school career. She has qualified for state in track all three years while she also helped the Highland girls basketball team earn third place in the state two years ago as a sophomore.
“I’m so excited that I completed my goal of state in three sports,” she said.