CHAMPAIGN – Pat Hetterman's St. Thomas More girls' golf team left the IHSA state meet at Hickory Ridge Golf Course in Carbondale with the third place trophy. The Sabers lost three seniors from that team, but the scary thing for the other Class A schools across the state is that Hetterman thinks the Sabers have a chance to finish higher this year than they did in 2006.
"We're a much deeper team than we were last year," Hetterman said. "I have a stronger top three this year and some other girls that are going to fill in real nicely in the other three spots."
Headlining the returnees for the Sabers are Sheila Skulborstad and Katie Jean. Skulborstad finished 12th at the state meet last year and Hetterman feels she's already a Division I player. Jean placed 14th as a sophomore and will go back and forth with Skulborstad for the Sabers' No. 1 spot. Add seniors Rachel Hartman (54th at IHSA meet) and Kelly Tressler to the mix and a state championship this season appears to be within the Sabers' grasp.
"We'll be back and we'll be in contention for (a state title)," Hetterman said. "It's definitely possible. I'll be disappointed with anything less than second, because I think we have the ability to get to that point."
The team the Sabers would have to beat to get to that point would be defending champion Effingham St. Anthony. Before coming to St. Thomas More seven years ago, Hetterman started the girls' golf program at St. Anthony and coached the Bulldogs for 15 years. Beating her former school for a state championship is extra motivation.
"That would be awesome," Hetterman said. "It would be like Christmas wrapped up in sunshine."
Hetterman's attitude has trickled down to her players.
Even with the success they had as individuals last year, Skulborstad and Jean are looking to improve upon last year's results, which would help the team reach its ultimate goal.
"I was happy with how I did, but not excited," Jean said. "I had a couple of bad holes last year, but definitely a top-10 finish, maybe a top five this year."
Said Skulborstad: "Last year was a good feeling, but we're looking for a better one. There's a lot of good competition out there, but I think we can do it."
Each of Hetterman's top players brings something different to the table. Tressler is physically the strongest player, with the ability to hit the ball a long way. Hartman is mentally tough and nothing will rattle her on the course. And the top two players, Skulborstad and Jean, are as good as any duo in the state.
"Sheila and Katie have been playing phenomenal golf," Hetterman said. "They both had great summers, winning some tournaments and placing high in others. I don't look for any flaws from those two. They just keep getting better."
Despite their success to this point in their careers, both Jean and Skulborstad have parts of their game they say need improvement.
Skulborstad said she can improve a little bit on every part of her game, while Jean, who Hetterman said is a perfectionist, got a little more specific.
"I definitely need my short game to improve," she said. "It's improved a lot but I'm still a little inconsistent. I just need to get my irons close and make those putts a little easier."
The quality of play at a St. Thomas More golf practice is better than that at some area meets. Skulborstad and Jean regularly compete with one another during practice sessions, something Hetterman said has helped each of their games.
"They go at it, but it's in a good way," Hetterman said. "There's no negative competition going on. It doesn't matter which is shooting lower, as long as one of them is playing well they're happy for one another."
"Oh yeah, it's fun. We'll go on the range and have a competition or on the green and have a putting contest," Jean said. "It's good to push each other."
So who normally comes out on top in those competitions?
"I won't say," Jean said with a laugh. "We'll just leave it at that."