ROCKFORD – Nudge and squint. Nudge and squint.
As if girls golfers didn’t face enough pressure playing through Monday’s AA Rockford Guilford Sectional, checking the Ingersoll Golf Course leaderboard presented further obstacles.
The 76 beside St. Charles North freshman Gianna Furrie’s name and the 335 attached to her team weren’t going away. It was just a matter of how they stood up as more scores and spectators appeared.
Small print and tension were ultimately no match for the North Stars, who finished third to claim the final qualifying spot at the state meet set for Friday and Saturday at Decatur’s Hickory Point Golf Course. The North Stars edged Barrington (336) and Waubonsie Valley (338) by a combined four strokes.
“It was really nerve-racking, because I knew that I would have made it as an individual if my team hadn’t,” Furrie said, “but thinking of the whole team together, it was really, really nerve-racking.”
Furrie’s 4-over-par score ranked fourth individually. Classmate Kate Lillie shook off an inconsistent early driver to shoot an 80, while seniors Jessica Grill (88) and Carly Hudon (91) were next.
North Stars coach Chris Patrick again lauded the sustained stability of his youngest players, but also was quick to credit Hudon’s cool-enough head. The Sycamore transfer, back in the state field for the first time since her freshman season, refused to let frustration completely snowball. Considering North’s margin of victory, that was crucial.
“It was a rough day,” Hudon said. “We all have those, so it’s just great that I get a second chance. The team held me up and we can now just focus on state and not have to worry about today.”
Athletes from North and St. Charles East entered play with confidence at Ingersoll after competing there Sept. 21 during the Guilford Invitational. The North Stars (339) and Saints (390) finished third and 10th, respectively, in the 20-team event.
For golfers unfamiliar with the straightforward municipal layout, being at ease was made easier upon entering the pro shop. The homey Gilbey’s Place restaurant attached to the shop served such comfort food as fried egg sandwiches and root beer floats. Among the items offered in the end-of-season 30 percent off golf apparel sale was a wooden wall plaque featuring a heart and the message “Good Morning. Let The Stress Begin.”
A plodding pace of play frustrated the North Stars and Saints at regionals. On Monday, the prevailing notion that sectional rounds speed up given an increasingly skilled field largely remained on par, with only a 45-minute frost delay affecting the start of the round.
The wait to learn of the day’s individual cut also went smoothly. Cashing in her post-round meal ticket at Gilbey’s, Saints senior Darby Crane knew without spying the scoreboard that her 92 was a few strokes off; she was correct, as 84 proved the target number.
Kaneland junior Tori Guyton and Burlington Central senior Jenna Kurosky flirted with qualifying after shooting separate 86s. Battling trouble off the tee – she estimated her drives averaged 200 yards, 20 below her average – Kurosky worked to compensate as she again led the Rockets, who registered a 400.
“I felt confident, it’s just that my long game was letting me down a little bit,” said Kurosky, who was four strokes better than younger sister Josie. “I just wasn’t hitting it as well as I have been throughout the season, so that was a little disappointing.”
Geneva’s Kari Kirl (91) and Mary Clare Novak (95) also competed but did not advance. Kaneland’s Julia VanGemert carded a 100.
Others missing the cut were East freshmen Kacie Gaffney (95), Reagan Stanton (101) and sophomore Mary Ellen Combs (105), but Crane sees an encouraging future from the program she leaves after a solid career.
“They’ve really taken care of each other, and I think they’re working together, which is nice to see,” Crane said. “One of the girls came out and watched us today that didn’t qualify [Rosemarie Bundy], so there was more of a team aspect this year than we’ve had before.”
North, meanwhile, has sensed something special since the season began thanks to the poise of Haines Middle School products Furrie and Lillie. Furrie, the younger sister of former North Stars standout Ariana, never could see her sister’s state rounds, as she usually had conflicts with her Tri-Cities Soccer Association Premier team.
“Not really sure what to expect,” Furrie said, “but I’m excited.”
She isn’t the only North Star in that club.