After trying year, eyes turn toward conference tourneys
Every year when teams make preseason goals they almost always include winning a conference championship.
Those schools you compete against year in and year out, the ones located closest to you, the ones who become rivals. Beating them to win a conference title makes any season a successful one.
You can't blame any coach for looking at this year's conference tournaments with a little extra motivation. Without an IHSA state tournament, and with all every athlete has been through during the COVID-19 pandemic, those teams who bring home conference crowns the next few weeks might be smiling a little more in those socially distanced photos.
"I think it's fair to say that all of our golf coaches and MSL golfers are overjoyed that we are playing and everyone is taking every match and 18-hole tournament as if it is a major championship," said Hersey coach Dan Caporusso, whose team finished second to Barrington at the 2019 MSL tourney before beating the Broncos at regionals and finishing just behind them at sectionals. "The Hersey golfers have ramped up our efforts on the golf course hitting enough balls to make Ben Hogan proud."
Golf kicks off the conference tournament season this week. The DuKane girls, DuPage Valley boys, Metro Suburban boys and Upstate Eight boys are all Monday.
Most conferences also are planning tournaments for tennis and cross country in October, and a few will have swimming.
The MSL plays both its boys and girls golf tournaments Tuesday at Old Orchard and Arlington Lakes, respectively. Tuesday and Wednesday are busy days for conference golf tournaments throughout the suburbs, and then the Fox Valley boys finish things up Thursday at Randall Oaks.
Conant senior Nikko Ganas fired a 31 as part of the best dual meet performance in the MSL this fall. He'll have plenty of competition from Barrington's Ian Bouchard, Hersey's Henry Quinn, teammate Nicholas Simon, and Buffalo Grove's Ryan Beerheide and Dori Lee, among others.
"It's a pretty packed conference this year," Ganas said. "There's a lot of golfers that can win it. It's going to be a fun test. That course is pretty good for me."
Wheaton Warrenville South enters as the defending DuKane boys champion and returns individual winner Ben Klimenko.
The DuKane will do things differently with its top four girls teams playing Monday and teams 5-8 on Wednesday. The conference will take the same split approach for the boys, helping limit the number of golfers on the course.
"The conference championship is always a goal for just about everyone I think," Tigers coach Jimmy Selleck said. "This tournament takes on a special place each year. The excitement to play with your teammates and our neighboring schools is always high. It is a terrific tournament."
Glenbard South girls coach Kevin Berner also is part of a smaller field at the Upstate Eight tournament Wednesday at St. Andrews when the Raiders will be joined by Glenbard East, West Chicago and U-46 co-op.
The Raiders were one of the schools who saw a boost in numbers this fall with 32 going out instead of the typical 12-14.
"This was challenging with golf courses all over packed with golfers, transportation restrictions, and limited geography to find opponents," Berner said. "The postseason is a welcome slice of normalcy."
The IHSA also made a significant change to its plan for the postseason Wednesday when it announced golf and cross country will have both a regional and sectional round.
Originally golf teams were expecting only to play a regional and then end the season.
"That's definitely a good thing because I was not too happy about us ending it on conference or regionals," said Ganas, adding his remote learning schedule has given him more time to fine-tune his chipping and putting. "I just want to take advantage of it and try to end on a good note if I can."
The golf sectionals will look a little different with fewer teams and individuals advancing from regionals. Typically three teams advance with 10 individuals; this year two teams and four individuals move on.
It's still much better than no sectional at all, giving the elite teams and golfers a chance to test their games against even better competition.
"We are looking forward to competing at the conference tournament, the regional and the newly announced sectional tournament if we are fortunate to qualify for," said 14th-year Waubonsie Valley boys coach Eric Flodberg. "I'm glad the IHSA added on a portion of the state series to give all players the opportunity to showcase their talents.
"I am extremely grateful that we are playing golf and I am able to see the players' games improve. Kids look forward to competing and seeing other individuals their age during this unprecedented time."