Girls golf: Scouting Fox Valley
What does defending Class AA state girls' golf champion St. Charles North plan to do for an encore?
How about not letting up on the gas pedal.
The North Stars return a trio of players in sophomore Catie Nekola, junior Isabella Spinazze and senior Brooke Bayless from that state team.
Coach Irish Whalen noted Nekola won her age division of IJGA and earned her first MAJGT tournament win this summer. "Catie has been playing extremely well over the summer months," Whalen said. "We are looking forward to her fall season. Her game is becoming more and more precise."
Nekola ended 2018 with a 40.6 average for nine, while Spinazze finished at 43. "Isabella also had a good summer," Whalen noted. "She has been competing and fine-tuning her already powerful game. She has more distance and accuracy on the ball, allowing her to score."
Whalen has been particularly impressed with the development of Bayless, who also averaged 43 for nine a year ago. "During tryouts, Brooke's game has looked very solid," Whalen noted. "I can tell she has put a ton of work in over the summer months. She has gained distance off the tee and her short game is very sharp. As one of our returning seniors, I am very excited about the leadership Brooke will bring to the program."
Whalen said having battled-tested postseason players returning will only help. "They know what it feels like to be in the highest competition the state can offer," Whalen said. "This will benefit us. Those players will help push their teammates who have less experience.
"We have to take it one day at a time. We lost some powerful players and wish them all the best as they head to their next chapters, but as a new group we need to figure out what our program strengths and weaknesses are so we can capitalize on the golf course. I am very excited about this group of girls."
Geneva qualified for sectional play a year ago and was the DuKane runner-up with a 6-1 mark. The Vikings return all-DuKane performers in senior Avery Frick, sophomore Reese Clark and sophomore Kaylin Johnson. In fact, Geneva returns its entire regional and sectional team. Seniors Annie McQueeny, Olivia Main, juniors Lexi Leden, Colleen Rutledge and sophomore Annie Monroe also are back.
"We are striving to be highly competitive in conference play and advance to state as a team," coach Doug Ross said. "The strength of our team always has been the internal competition the girls bring every day in practice. Every girl wants to be a scorecard and that desire helps drive improvement."
Batavia, third in the DuKane a year ago, returns senior Lauren Grychowski, a sectional qualifier. Senior Sophie Golson is back. She was injured in the postseason last year. Senior Ainslee Parker also is back.
"Our top three golfers will be solid," Batavia coach Tim Kauffmann said. "We need our four through six golfers to step up to be competitive this year. Our younger varsity members need to step up this year. They are still developing, so their raw talent is still somewhat raw. If any of them can step up this year, we will be pretty solid. I feel we can compete with the best teams."
St. Charles East will be led by the likes of senior Paige Breslin, junior Sarah Podjasek and sophomore Ella Tassone.
In the Fox Valley Conference, the Crystal Lake District 155 co-op team continues to be the queen of the hill, winning the league title a year ago. Senior Molly Lyne (Cary-Grove) took 14th in the state a year ago. Crystal Lake Central junior Renata Petersen also is back.
"As in all years, our cohesiveness of being three schools that combine into one team is a strength," Crystal Lake coach Kyle McCaughn said. "I am always so pleased as to the way these young ladies come together every year."
Jacobs returns sectional qualifiers in seniors Lauren Kempf and Roslyn Leitner. Junior Jordan Miller also is back. "Our upperclassmen will be strong leaders," coach Megan Placko said.
Hampshire was third in the conference in 2018 and returns sectional qualifier and senior Delaney Marcucilli, along with classmate Gianna Farinella. "We have two seniors with four years of varsity experience and summer tournament experience," coach Sue Ellett said. "We need to find the players willing to step up to fill the third and fourth scores needed for team victories."
Huntley, which was fourth in the FVC, returns sectional qualifier Katie Matustik. The Red Raiders also will benefit from the play of Nina Shaffer, Taylor Stephenson and Molly Baker. Dundee-Crown returns junior Arly Perez and sophomore Sonora Rodriguez, plus coach Laurie Herb welcomes a bevy of new players to the team.
The FVC welcomes Burlington Central to the mix this fall. The Rockets won the Kishwaukee River Conference title last year and returner Kelsey O'Connor, a junior, won the individual KRC title. Also back are seniors Rosmarie Barnes and Madelyn Menke, along with juniors Emily Koh and Maya Gusciora. That quintet averaged between 45.9 and 52.9 per nine last year for coach Kyle Nelson. Barnes is a returning sectional qualifier. "Our strength will be our depth," Nelson noted. "We have six or seven golfers who can put up scores under 50 on any given day."
Like Burlington Central, West Aurora is taking up residence in a new conference this fall. The 2018 Upstate Eight Conference champions are now in the Suburban Prairie Conference. The Blackhawks return all-UEC performers in seniors Taylor Martin, Allie Dennis and Julia Fogleman. All three were top-10 in the UEC tournament. West Aurora had no seniors last year and coach Chris Soulsby said it will benefit from a deep roster of 22 in the program.
Rosary advanced to the sectional as a team a year ago and will be led by junior Ashley Auchstetter, sophomore Brooke Stumm and sophomore newcomer Morgan Witte.
Fellow Metro Suburban Conference member Aurora Central Catholic has state qualifier Josie Alm back, along with sophomore Michelle Beggs, who was all-conference as a freshman last season. Coach Mark Schwartz said the goal is to get both to Decatur this fall.
Kaneland had no team last year, but returns to Interstate Eight action this year. The Knights are paced by junior Emily Skiba and freshmen Katharine Marshall and Julia Skiba.
Fox Valley girls golf at a glance
Top teams: Burlington Central, Crystal Lake District 155 co-op, Geneva, St. Charles North
Top returning players: Josie Alm, Aurora Central Catholic, Sr., Ashley Auchstetter, Rosary, Jr., Michelle Beggs, Aurora Central Catholic, Soph., Reese Clark, Geneva, Soph., Allie Dennis, West Aurora, Sr., Julia Fogleman, West Aurora, Sr., Avery Frick, Geneva, Soph., Lauren Grychowski, Batavia, Sr., Kaylin Johnson, Geneva Soph., Lauren Kempf, Jacobs, Sr., Roslyn Leitner, Jacobs, Sr., Molly Lyne, Cary-Grove, Sr., Delaney Marcucilli, Hampshire, Sr., Taylor Martin, West Aurora, Sr., Katie Matustik, Huntley, Sr., Catie Nekola, St. Charles North, Soph., Kelsey O'Connor, Burlington Central, Jr., Isabella Spinazze, St. Charles North, Jr., Brooke Stumm, Rosary, Jr.
Season skinny: A season of change in the Fox Valley. Burlington Central, which won the Kishwaukee River title last year, moves to the Fox Valley Conference, while West Aurora, which won the Upstate Eight title in 2018, is the newest member of the Suburban Prairie Conference. Can Central with its depth challenge longtime FVC ruler Crystal Lake? Let's not forget the area also features defending Class AA state-champion St. Charles North, which graduated a lot off that title team, but does return some battle-tested experience looking to make their mark.