Evelyn Brand, Monticello
The junior set the school's nine-hole scoring record (40) a year ago and lowered that earlier this month with a 38 at Stone Creek on a day she had both a triple bogey and a double bogey, which she offset with three birdies. Last week, Brand fired 36 on an executive course. A two-time sectional qualifier, she has cut nearly four strokes off her average (to an area-best 42.3) and is threatening the school season record (45.5), which has stood since 1987. "Her biggest improvement has been in hitting greens in regulation and giving herself birdie opportunities," coach Chris Townsend said. Brand is part of a strong team which can't afford an off day from anyone. The Sages' squad has the minimum number of players needed to be scored in meets (four), but still broke the school match record score three meets in a row. Most recently, the foursome combined for a 198 at Woodlawn Country Club, in Farmer City. Senior Kaza Combs, junior Madeline Diniz and sophomore Andrea Easton are the other contributors. Diniz and Easton have each improved their averages by at least seven strokes since 2011. "After only winning once two years ago and three times last year, the team is 7-1 overall," Townsend said. "If we can shoot our averages at regionals, we have a good shot at advancing to sectionals." Monticello also set its 18-hole school scoring mark (419).
Brooklyn Hildreth, Mahomet-Seymour
The senior has been her team's medalist in seven of the season's first nine meets, picking up on the strong finish she had as a junior. "Her ability to manage the course and make smart decisions have helped lower her average (to 43.2, second in the area). and make her more successful on the course," M-S coach Matt Mills said. The Bulldogs' other senior, Amber Tabaka, was the team's medalist in the two meets where Hildreth was not the leader. Her season average is 45.9. One of M-S' most improved is sophomore Emily Trolia. "She brought her average down 6 strokes from last season (to 46.5)," Mills said. "Emily has really emerged as a key contributor." The newcomers in the varsity lineup are all pushing to be the No. 4 scorer: junior Lexus Hornsby, sophomore Maddie Birckbichler and freshman Keagan Gagne. "I look for them to become more consistent as the season goes on," said Mills, whose squad won the 13-school LeRoy Scramble on Saturday. "We want to continue to bring our 18-hole scores down and peak at the end of the season." Hildreth (last year's team medalist at sectional), Tabaka and Trolia all competed for the team which placed sixth in last year's Class 1A state meet. "The girls would like to return to state, and we will continue to work toward that goal," said Mills, whose squad is 10-0 in dual meets.
Katie Spangler, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley
The Falcons' No. 1 player is in her final semester of high school. She will graduate in December with hopes of pursuing a career in dancing or acting. She has hired an agency to help her along that path. Originally, she took up golf so her sister (2012 graduate Emily) could play for a full team. "Her timing, rhythm and balance provide her with tremendous distance," said GCMS coach Guy Percy, who estimates her drives to be in the 230-yard range. "Her short game is good. She is working on her total game to shave the few strokes needed to meet her goals." Spangler's average (46.2) is close to what it was a year ago as she seeks to continue a tradition at the school that has produced state qualifiers nine consecutive years. The other three GCMS players are freshmen whom Spangler is tutoring. The group includes Emily Allen, Lacie Butler and Jordyn Marcum. "They have all made great progress and are looking forward to becoming the backbone of future strong teams," Percy said. "The future looks bright for the Falcons with our three committed freshmen that will have four years to develop." Percy believe the immediate future looks bright for Spangler, too. "She hasn't gone low yet this year," he said, "but she played her best two rounds late last year."
Katelynn Martinez, Centennial
An All-Area first-teamer in basketball and soccer, Martinez is the only Charger consistently breaking 50 this season. "Katelynn is definitely the best three-sport athlete in the area and probably also the state," Chargers coach Darren Tee said. She took up golf prior to her sophomore season, and her current nine-hole average is 49.2, which is the best on her team by nearly 6 shots. "Her strength is her ball striking, which is also a weakness," Tee said. "When she is on, she hits it solid and pure as well as pretty long. She is like a lot of newer players: inconsistent." Martinez' greatest improvement, Tee said, is "she is a lot better off the tee and on her shots from the fairway." Her scores may drop soon, he said. "She is struggling with her short game, specifically putting," Tee said. "When she gets that figured out, her scores will go down 4 or 5 strokes." Two other seniors have been in Tee's lineup: Haley Hollern and Madison Lake. Juniors Katie Brown and Anna Pryde-Wait have contributed as have sophomores Grace Khachaturian and Katie Sullivan and freshman Lindsey Wisniewski. Khachaturian was an individual sectional qualifier as a freshman. The Chargers hope for a top-two finish at the Big 12 meet and then will head to a difficult regional at Pekin. "That is a survival course," Tee said. "It's too tough to be a regional course."
Caroline Dodds, St. Thomas More
While Centennial's Martinez might be the area's best three-sport female athlete this year, Dodds may well be the premier two-sport fall athlete. In addition to golf, she runs cross-country and recorded her best 3-mile time of the season (21 minutes, 15 seconds) on Saturday at Peoria. On a golf team which graduated its top four players from 2011, Dodds has emerged as the Sabers' top player this season and was the medalist in meets against Teutopolis and LeRoy. She was one spot from a top-15 finish at the Centennial Invitational, when she shot a 98. Teamwise, there is little margin for error, with five squad members this year. A school that has placed among the top four at state all six years there has been a two-class system (including the 2010 state championship season) is in jeopardy of not qualifying this year though Dodds, Taylor During and senior Brianna Davisson are all in position to have individual success in the postseason. Veteran coach Pat Hettermann has a solid nucleus with Dodds and During, both juniors, joined in the lineup by another junior, Samantha Floyd, and freshman Allie Wagner. The tournament path gets under way in eight days with the Sangamon Valley Conference meet at Shewami Golf Club.