WEST CHICAGO – Recreational golfers corralled themselves into tee boxes moments after Wednesday's Upstate Eight Conference River Division boys tournament ended.
The proceedings at St. Andrews concluded slightly ahead of past seasons' paces, prompting St. Charles North coach Rob Prentiss to grin, "We don't mess around in the Upstate Eight."
Businesslike, confident play prevailed from the top down in familiar surroundings, beginning with River Division champion Geneva. All four Vikings scorers shot in the 70s en route to a team score of 310 that edged North (319) and St. Charles East (322) atop the six-team, seven-school field.
In the Valley Division, just four players, period, were in the 70s.
"We felt good today. We had four scores in the 70s, and we were the only team to do that, so that's good for us," Geneva senior Nate Desens said. "I'd say we're improving. We haven't played our best yet, but we're getting there."
Responding to teammates' wishes, Desens donned a newsboyesque hat near the end of the awards ceremony honoring him as River Division medalist and, later, Player of the Year.
Ultimately, Desens' 3-over-par 74 clinched the feather in the cap for veteran Vikings coach Bill Koehn, who's set to retire after 30 seasons, including 10 in which he guided conference champions.
Freshman Graham Lillibridge followed Desens with a 78, while junior Matt Fisher and senior Alex Schreiber recorded 79s.
"We're kind of coming together at the right time, which is really good," Koehn said. "We've worked hard all year. In our conference, to win six matches in there and playing on some of the courses we play, we've done everything we could do to get ourselves ready for coming in here today."
The senior-laden North Stars toted similar confidence despite a late slide in the dual season. Matt Samuelson (75) and Raghav Cherala (77) finished second and fourth, respectively, on the individual leaderboard, citing their comfort with a course that also will host Tuesday's Class 3A St. Charles East Regional.
Had tournament results fallen a certain way, North and the rest of its Tri-Cities brethren had the chance at an overall team title.
Geneva held serve after going unbeaten in duals, while once-beaten East maintained its grip on second place.
"Honestly, when you're on the course, you can't think about that," Samuelson said. "You have to just think about your own game."
On the 14th hole, Samuelson found that simply reacting to instincts wasn't a bad course of action, either. He did just that with a 52-degree wedge about 20 yards from the pin, notching an eagle on a day when he otherwise "played really smart golf" and stayed in play.
"Hit a low runner and it went in," Samuleson said, "so that was fun."
With Cherala, the divisional player of the year as a sophomore and junior, improving down the stretch after early inconsistency, North is envisioning another enjoyable St. Andrews round next week.
"I haven't played up to my full potential, but I've been playing pretty good, and I feel like my game is getting a little better, which is good around this time of regionals and sectionals," Cherala said.
East's Luke Molloy (78, fifth) and Connor McCadam (79, eighth) also earned top 10 individual finishes.
Batavia's Jacob Piechota was 11th for fifth-place Batavia, shooting 80. Nick Bleidorn joined Piechota as an all-conference honoree based on his regular season success – Desens, Lillibridge, Samuelson, Cherala, McCadam and Molloy were the other all-conference golfers among Tri-Cities teams – but did not register in Wednesday's team score.
Andrew Nelson's 84 was second for Batavia, slightly off the pace of East's other scorers, Gary King (82) and Kyle Jacobs (83).
"We've been up and down. We've been trying to get [consistency]," Saints coach John Stock said. "Here it is, October, and you know, trying to stay in there. We'll try and do better. That's all we can do."
All the better to try at St. Andrews, a frequent site for regular-season duals and summer junior and recreational play.
"You just wipe everything out at conference and just go to regionals," Piechota said. "Hopefully shoot in the 70s and advance."
Playing at St. Andrews during last season's conference tournament, Desens carded an 81 that ranked third on the team.
On Wednesday, birdies on Nos. 2, 10 and 13 propelled Desens, who credited his ball-striking above all.
The rest of the Vikings didn't look sheepish at address, either.
"We just came out and played," Schreiber said. "We knew we could get it done."