Deb Twenhafel started the Burlington Central boys golf program 26 years ago, and for 24 of those seasons she has been the Rockets coach.
"I took a two-year leave of absence and I just missed it," Twenhafel said. "I decided to come back."
Twenhafel got quite the reward for her dedication to her program Tuesday at Phillips Park Golf Course in Aurora at the Class 2A Aurora Central Catholic regional. She watched the Rockets break their school record with a 295 to win the first regional championship in school history.
"I never thought of getting a regional plaque ever in my career," Twenhafel said. "It's a big, big day. They knew they could play this course well."
The Rockets entered a tournament three weeks ago at Phillips Park and shot 311, then stepped their game up another notch Tuesday with the school-record. They needed nearly every stroke to better host and runner-up Aurora Central Catholic at 298.
Indiana-bound senior Matt Weber led the way with a 5-under 66, tying his own school record to win the individual regional title by one shot over Kaneland's Matt Yonkovich who also fired his own career best.
"That was my big thing," Weber said. "That was what motivated me to go as low as I could to help the team out. I really wanted to win a regional my senior year. It kind of slipped by the last three years."
Kaneland earned the third spot in next week's Class 2A Freeport sectional with a 310, the same score as St. Edward. The Knights advanced thanks to fifth men Jesse Denton and Stephen Cannell shooting 84s.
Wheaton Academy checked in at 311, just one shot behind Kaneland and St. Edward in what proved to be a deep field -- just as Twenhafel anticipated.
'Coming in I was quite nervous though I tried to not portray that to the boys," Twenhafel said. "We knew we had a good chance of getting out, but we knew Wheaton Academy, ACC, Kaneland, we knew they were going to be tough, too."
Against a field like that it helps to have a No. 1 like Weber. He fired a 2-under 34 on the front and followed with a 3-under 32 on the back. He made 6 birdies and his lone bogey when he 3-putted the 12th green.
"I played pretty good," Weber said. "I drove it a lot better than I have been. I did a lot of work on my driving, it has been erratic lately, today was a lot better. I putted a lot better today. It has been inconsistent and I've been doing a lot of practice with my coach. There were a few spots where it was a little inconsistent but I made some good putts coming in."
It was on the 16th tee box when Weber learned how well his teammates were playing and that the elusive regional title was in sight. He responded with birdies on 16 and 18.
"I knew if I got a few more and other guys hung in there we had a good chance to break our school record," Weber said. "I was real excited."
The Rockets beat their previous school record by 3 shots.
Weber's teammates definitely held up. Austin Niesel, who shot 72 last time he played Phillips Park, carded another 72. Freshman Joe Sherman shot 80, and Andrew Sherman shook off some recent inconsistency with a 77.
"Andrew has been struggling," Twenhafel said. "That (77) is a very capable score for him. He definitely stepped up. That's the key to golf when you can get four decent scores at one time. They are firing very well at the same time."
Nobody more so than Weber, the first Division I player in Twenhafel's tenure.
"He's so grown up," Twenhafel said. "Being a senior he's portrayed a lot of leadership qualities. He's grown up to be a great young man. Indiana is getting a good guy there."
Runner-up Aurora Central Catholic turned in one of the most balanced rounds. Sean Harreld (72), Daniel Miller (73), Justin Prince (74) and Mac Cowen (79) finished within 7 shots of each other.
Like Burlington Central, the Chargers also broke their school record Tuesday.
"It was our home course so we were trying to win but we broke the school record by eight strokes and played pretty well as a team," Cowen said. "Four scores in the 70s is pretty good."
Cowen, a freshman, is the young gun in the Chargers lineup. He turned in 9s of 37 and 42.
"Playing with a bunch of seniors is pretty fun," Cowen said. "Just helping them out their final year is pretty exciting."
Kaneland's hearts skipped a beat when the last scores were posted. A St. Edward player was incorrectly listed as 75 instead of 76, which would have left the Knights one stroke out of a sectional berth.
Instead, once the right score was marked, Kaneland's counting scores of Matt Yonkovich (67), Brody Kuhar (78), Jeremy Faletto (81) and Cannell and Kuhar at 84 were enough to move on. The Knights' No. 5 score of 84 beat St. Edward's No. 5 of 91.
"That was a 10-minute emotional roller coaster because we thought we lost it by one stroke," Kaneland coach Mark Meyer said. "We got through by the skin of our teeth and we're looking forward to sectionals. Hopefully we can have a good showing there. We knew this was going to be a very tough regional. We knew there were some excellent teams."
The Knights got a huge lift from Faletto in the No. 6 spot, moving all the way up to their third man.
"That was his best for an 18-hole tournament," Meyer said. "We really needed him today and we're really proud of him being our third score."
Yonkovich, who previously shot 69 twice, said his lowest round is a 65 in a practice round at White Tail.
"That doesn't really count. This one feels really good," said Yonkovich who started fast with four birdies on the front nine.
"My tee shots and approach shots really helped me get some makable putts. I got in trouble on a couple tee shots but I didn't let that bring me down. I fought through and made a couple putts.
"I'm really glad we made it out as a team. It gives us a lot of momentum heading into sectionals."
Wheaton Academy nearly had that final team spot, getting its four scores from Grant Gosden (71), Zach Spear (75), Bobby Feevans (80) and Matt Hamm (85).
"It's really tough especially being a senior going out by one stroke," Hamm said. "I think the rest of the team played pretty well. The rest of these schools that shot well, there's nothing you can do about that."
The first three Warriors all advanced to sectional as individuals. Hamm did his best to recover from a 4-over 8 on the opening hole by birdieing the next two holes including a chip-in on No. 2.
"I knew I needed to step up my game after that first hole because today is the one day you really want to play well," Hamm said. "It was strange but it was good to get it back to only 2-over through three. From then on it was pretty smooth play. Overall I was pretty happy with how I played and brought it back. I told myself I'm not going to let this ruin my round."
Other individual qualifiers included a trio from St. Edward -- Michael Mattas (72), Daniel Winters (76) and John Butzow (80). Hampshire also advanced three -- Nick Swierczynski (81), Drew Doran (82) and Geoff Beck (82) as part of a 335 team total.
Doran and Beck defeated St. Edward's Michael Butzow in a three-man playoff for the final two individual spots.
Like the three qualifying teams, they will move on to Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport for the sectional Monday, a course the Rockets played as a team Sunday.
"If we could get downstate and put Burlington Central on the map, that would be awesome," Twenhafel said.