Second time around sweet for St. Charles North, Kate Lillie

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Last year, St. Charles North made a run to the Class AA state tournament for the first time in eight years, finishing ninth in the process with a pair of freshmen helping lead the way.

On Friday, the North Stars will be back at Hickory Point in Decatur once again after Monday’s solid 331 at the Class AA Conant Sectional, which was good enough for second place.

New coach Irish Whalen couldn’t be happier with how her first season at the helm turned out thus far.

“This is why we coach,” Whalen said after Thursday’s practice round in Decatur. “This is the point. To be able to do this in my first year is really exciting.”

North’s low scorer at state last year was one of those freshmen, Kate Lillie, who shot a two-day total of 157, including a 76 in her second round. That was good for a tie for 20th individually.

This season, Lillie has taken her game to another level, and is peaking at the right time. She shot a career-low 69 to run away with medalist honors Monday.

“Her game has become stronger and stronger,” Whalen said. “If you look at her scores from the beginning of the season, she has improved the entire time. I think she’s really feeling comfortable with her game. Because of that, she’s been able to be more aggressive on her approach shots and putts.”

It wasn’t a dramatic change that got Lillie rolling this season, but more of a subtle change in her short game that has resulted in fewer bogeys.

“I think the biggest thing that’s improved is my chipping,” Lillie said. “My swing did improve, but around the greens, I got a lot more accurate. It gave me easier pars. It was one of my goals this season to really improve my chipping and short wedges, inside of 100 yards, to be more accurate.”

It was the three returners from last year’s state team who led North in the sectional.

Fellow sophomore Gianna Furrie came through with a 74, which gave the team confidence that they would be able to advance with the two best scores of the sectional. Senior Gabi Spinazze shot a 92. The three varsity newcomers, junior Kayla Janchik (96) and seniors Alina O’Donnell and Morgan Snook, comprised the rest of the sectional roster.

The goal is to finish higher than ninth this time around, but Whalen is making sure that the team concentrates on itself, not the field.

“We’re aware of the numbers with everybody else, but their goal is to go out and do their best,” Whalen said. “We want to focus on our game. We’re looking to be competitive with everyone. They’re very confident.”

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