Highland Park advances to girls golf sectional

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In October of 2011, Nicole Berardi was a spectator at the Class AA girls golf state tournament at Hickory Point Golf Club in Decatur.

Now a Highland Park sophomore, Berardi was watching her older sisters Jackie (then a senior) and Tina (then a junior) as they competed with the Giants’ state-qualifying team.

“I saw them play with some of the best golfers in Illinois. That was a really successful team that year,” Nicole Berardi said. “I wasn’t that serious about golf, but I felt ‘Wow, if I worked at it, I could be part of a team like that.’ ”

She started playing more golf in the spring and summer. As a freshman in 2013, she made the Giants’ varsity squad. Regularly the team’s No. 5 golfer, Nicole Berardi set her sights higher in 2014. That meant more practice and more competitive rounds.

The months of June and July were filled with junior tournaments. On July 15, Nicole Berardi’s 86 at an Illinois Junior Golf Association sectional at Highland Park Country Club was good for third place. All summer, she felt her skill level rise to the level of her competition.

“I played with a lot of girls that were better than I was,” Nicole Berardi said.

Two of those players were her sisters.

With Tina Berardi (a sophomore at Denison University in Ohio) and Jackie Berardi (a junior at Dayton) home from college, the three would often play together. If any of the sisters needed a quick swing tip or a read on a long putt, instruction was not far away.

“Our dad is a football coach. He likes to play golf coach in the summer,” Nicole Berardi said of family outings at area courses like Chevy Chase Country Club in Wheeling or Thunderhawk Golf Club in Beach Park.

By the time high school season began in August, Nicole Berardi was a consistent player. Not a long hitter off the tee, she relies on precision and direction. Combined with a mature mental approach to the game, Nicole Berardi quickly climbed up to Giants’ roster.

For much of 2014, she’s been Highland Park’s No. 2 player behind senior Kelli Ono.

“The kids who are successful are able to plow through the rough spots and through a bad hole. You have to ride the wave and harness the bad stuff so it doesn’t get too bad,” Giants coach Cathy Nachman said. “She’s so even tempered. She has a bright future ahead of her.”

Some of the future Nachman speaks of is now.

At the Central Suburban League tournament on Oct. 1, Nicole Berardi carded an 18-hole score of 86. It put her in a four-way tie for ninth place. She and Ono (who shot an 80, good for third place) lead Highland Park into the October state series that began Wednesday with the regional round at Deerpath Golf Course in Lake Forest.

With a lineup that includes juniors Emma Hanig, Zoe Zirlin and Daniella Cohen, the Giants placed third with a score of 365 (Barrington won with a 359). That was good enough to earn Highland Park a spot in the sectional round.

Nicole Berardi stops short of predicting that she’ll follow her sisters into the state tournament this year. The memory of that October day three years ago is never far from her mind.

“Watching how they hit the ball and finished each hole, it was a cool experience,” Nicole Berardi said. “It helped me prepare and set the goals I have for myself.”

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