Joliet Township girls finding competitive niche

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Last Wednesday afternoon was agonizing for coach Brian Koehne and members of the Joliet Township girls golf team. The Steelmen were among three teams in the Class AA regional they hosted to play Inwood’s back nine first, and they concluded their round much earlier than most. They relaxed and talked, but with repeated checks of the scoreboard. They did not finish as well as they had started, but maybe that same fate would befall others. “This is the time that stinks,” Koehne said of waiting. “You wind up playing every scenario in your head.” As it happened, players on most teams finished stronger than they started, and the Steelmen were denied a trip to Monday’s Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional at Coyote Run. They finished fifth. The top three teams advanced. However, merely being in a position to cross their fingers as they viewed the scoreboard indicates the program is moving in a positive direction. Brian Legan, general manager at Inwood, said he noticed the difference. “These girls are out here working hard all the time, and their coaches are doing a lot of work with them,” he said. “Natalie O’Connell, our JV coach, is great with the kids,” Koehne said. “And Britt Charley is a volunteer assistant who has a strong background technically in the game.” As for the girls, Koehne said, “It’s really a good group to build around. This is the best team in the five years I’ve been involved in the program (the last three as head coach). They’re all great students, they’re never in trouble. And they’re all in other sports, band, drama, you name it.” Sophomore Karen Juricic and junior Milena Singletary advanced individually to the sectional. Juricic shot 89 and Singletary 90. Singletary, the Steelmen’s No. 1 player, made sectional as a sophomore. Both were All-Conference this year. “I was hoping this would be the year for our team but it may not happen,” Singletary lamented as scores trickled in. “Our team did OK. I could have done better. I shot 80 in the summer. That was my best round here.” “We were hoping to shoot better coming into the regional based on the best we’ve shot,” Koehne said. “But it didn’t happen. We didn’t shoot as well on the front as we had on the back.” The Steelmen’s four best scores on the back totaled 184. They finished at 384. Lockport’s 364 was the final qualifying score, and Lincoln-Way Central missed out after shooting 372. Singletary and Juricic will carry a heavier load next fall. Joliet loses senior Rachel Hudgens and junior Angel Robinson, whose family will be moving to Iowa. “It’s sad some of our top girls won’t be with us next year,” Juricic said. “I’m looking forward to it, but it’s sad, too.” “Karen played well here,” Koehne said. “Milena has been our No. 1 all year. Both have tremendous upside. I’d like to get them to take lessons with a teaching pro, and then the sky’s the limit.” Juricic has learned what it’s like to be the “baby” on a close, fun-loving team. “Sometimes it sucks being the youngest — they tease me,” she said. “But they’re my family.” It’s a family that continues to progress, one step at a time. Scoreboard watching has legitimate meaning. “Three years ago, we were hoping we could shoot close to 200 (in a nine-hole match),” Koehne said. “Now we’re disappointed if we’re not below it.” Lincoln-Way Central’s sectional qualifiers were junior Mary Yonkaitis (87), senior Clara Scheer (87) and sophomore Madeline Karlson (96). Coach Brian Shannon’s team is another on the rise. “When I was a freshman, Mr. Shannon said I should come out for summer golf days,” Yonkaitis recalled. “That was the first golf I played. Now I’m shooting in the 80s. It’s awesome. I never dreamed I could shoot like this.” “Since my freshman year, we have all come a long way,” Scheer said.

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