The O’Fallon Panthers have spent the better part of the past seven weeks proving they are one of the top Class 2A girls golf teams outside of suburban Chicago. This weekend, O’Fallon gets its shot at proving its one of the best teams in the state.
Fresh off a strong second place finish at the Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin Sectional earlier this week, the battle-tested Panthers lead a strong local contingent into battle at the Class 2A girls golf tournament which begins on Friday at Hickory Point Golf Course in Decatur
The trip to the state finals is the third in school history and second in a row for O’Fallon, which placed 12th in the 12-team state finals a year ago. Three players from that team — Emily Marrs, Alyssa McMinn and Brooke Boatman — are among the Panthers top four players which include junior Natalie Meinkoth — who have been keys on a team which has won 12 tournaments throughout southern and central Illinois this season.
But are the the Panthers ready for what they’ll see this weekend?
“Part of why I scheduled us in so many tournaments this season was for the girls to compete against top teams on good courses to get them ready for what we see at the state tournament,” O’Fallon coach Chris Eddy said earlier. “We have prepared for this the best we can. Our girls will have seen and played the course a couple of times and I hope and think we’re going to go up and play well. Where will we finish? I’m thinking the middle of the pack. I just want us to play the way we can. If we do, that’s all anybody can ask.”
The Class 2A state tournament is one of five being held in central Illinois this weekend.
The Class 1A girls state finals, which includes 2013 state champion Nashville, is being held at Red Tail Run Golf Course in Decatur.
Three boys state tournaments are also being held this weekend. Southwestern Conference champion Edwardsville, led by junior Ben Tyrrell, is competing at the Class 3A state tournament at the Den at Fox Creek Golf Course in Bloomington. Alton Marquette also has a potential state champion in senior Michael Holtz and the Explorers are competing at the Class 2A state finals at Weibring Golf Course in Normal.
There are no local players competing at the Class 1A state finals which are being conducted at Prairie Vista Golf Course in Bloomington. Former Valmeyer head coach Terry Souchek however is the official starter at the Class 1A event.
All five state events are 36-hole tournaments and are being held on Friday and Saturday.
While O’Fallon could contend for a top five finish this weekend, three individuals — Abbey Burns of Coillinsville, Breanna Benardin of Triad and Kayla Weinacht of Edwardsville, could be in the hunt for top 20 finishes.
Burns, the first Collinsville player in 20 years to qualify for the girls state finals, placed in the top five at the sectional and is capable of back-to-back rounds of under 80 this weekend. Benardin, who drained a 15-foot birdie putt in sudden death to clinch a spot in the state finals, will be making her second straight appearance at Hickory Point.
Weinacht also advanced to the state finals in a playoff before letting the emotion of the achievement take over.
“I wanted this for so long,” Weinacht said wiping away the tears. “I have been so close the last two years and being a senior, well it means a lot. I just wish my team would have qualified too.”
Nashville looks for another state title
The Nashville Hornettes total of 332 they shot at the Salem Sectional was the lowest of the four sectional tournament winners around the state on Monday. Following the Hornettes sectional win, coach Doug Kell didn’t hold back on the goals both he and his team has heading into play at rugged Red Tail Run Golf Course on Friday.
“We want it to be a fun experience for the girls. A trophy of any kind would be great, but we are going up thinking we have a chance to win the state championship,” Kell said. “We (the coaches) believe we can and I know the girls and their families believe that we can.”
The 2013 state champion Hornettes are led by juniors Hope Rueter and Rachel Kell and sisters Jill and Sara Guetersloh. Also competing as individuals will be senior Makensey Umscheid of Waterloo and Meg Schnoeker of Okawville
Edwardsville boys back in the hunt
One year after Edwardsville senior Justin Hemings took home the Class 3A state championship, the Tigers may have another title contender when play begins Friday.
Southwestern Conference Tyrrell headlines a list of 10 players from throughout the state expected to be in the hunt for the state title late Saturday afternoon. The Tigers, a perennial state power, also have several other players including junior Tanner White and senior Luke Babington capable of playing well and leading Edwardsville into trophy contention.
Long-hitting Belleville East senior Austin Galloway is the only other metro-east player who qualified for the Class 3A state finals.
In Class 2A, like Tyrrell in Class 3A, Marquette senior Michael Holtz will lead his team this weekend and could be in contention for an individual state championship. A three-time state tournament qualifier, Holtz will be joined by teammates Nick Messinger and Jack Patterson as Marquette attempts to compete for the state team championship at Weibring Golf Course in Normal
Althoff junior Dylan Davidson, Mascoutah senior Alex Gorman and Mater Dei freshman Grant Goebel are also in the Class 2A field as individuals.