SHERMAN — Mia Kirby’s first three high school girls’ golf seasons each ended at the IHSA Class 1A state tournament.
Her fourth and final campaign would have followed the same path.
If it were any year other than 2020.
“It still hasn’t really hit me yet,” Kirby said Thursday afternoon. “State normally will feel like the end, so it’s just a little different this time.”
The state meet was canceled this season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. So Thursday’s eight-team Class 1A Rochester Sectional marked the end of the road for Kirby, a St. Thomas More senior, and two of her fellow STM senior teammates in Tessa Tomaso and Reese Hogan.
Kirby went out with a bang, too, birdieing three holes en route to a 10-over 82 that placed her fourth at The Rail Golf Course. Her effort paced the Sabers’ team score of 375, which tied them for second with Charleston and would have snared them a spot at state.
“Not everyone was totally satisfied with their round, but our coaches were really proud of us,” said Kirby, referencing Alan Dodds and Kim Zahrn. “We didn’t really expect to be able to make it to state. ... We’re not back, but we would’ve been back.”
STM lost three-time News-Gazette All-Area Player of the Year Alaina Bowie and fellow senior Sammy Miller to graduation before this season. Even so, the Sabers consistently bested opponents, both from the area and outside the area.
They would have been in the running for a fourth consecutive top-five team effort in the 1A field.
Instead, Kirby and her cohorts had a sectional as their end goal.
Junior Brooke Erhard tied for ninth with an 88 to back Kirby, while sophomore Leah Peifer (102) and Tomaso (103) rounded out STM’s leading four.
“I’m definitely very blessed that I got to be in a successful program,” Kirby said. “It’s all about my teammates. On my own, I think this year would’ve been the only year I would’ve made it individually to state. All the other years it was a team effort — and it was this year as well.”
Joining Kirby and Erhard among the top-10 individuals were Watseka senior Natalie Schroeder (85, sixth place) and Monticello senior Ashley Long (86, tied for seventh). Both Schroeder and Long won a regional title the previous week.
“It kind of hit me when I was putting on the 18th hole — I started to get a little choked up,” Schroeder said, “just standing there (and) realizing it was the last time I’m ever going to do this.”
Schroeder, who parred half of Thursday’s holes, found it challenging to accept that her total would have been good enough for an individual state berth, considering how some of her prior postseason runs ended.
“It kind of sucks because the other years I missed the cut by only 1 or 2 strokes,” Schroeder said. “I’m pretty proud of myself to finish strong and finish within the top 10 for it being my last high school tournament.”
Long birdied the par-4 sixth and turned in six pars on the day, ending a 2020 stint in which she broke the Sages’ nine-hole scoring record by 2 strokes with a 33.
“I was definitely a little disappointed with how I performed. I was coming off that regional title and really wanted to do my best,” Long said. “I’ve grown as a leader also this last year, stepping into that one position (for Monticello). So that’s been a great opportunity for me.”
Long came up short of state advancement each of her previous years as well. She would have joined Schroeder, Armstrong-Potomac senior Anna Duden (90, tied for 13th) and Mahomet-Seymour sophomore Ainsley Winters (91, tied for 15th) in booking a spot in the 1A finale if Thursday’s sectional was treated like past sectional tournaments.
“In today’s age we just have to be thankful for any tournament that we do get to play in,” Long said. “And so I’m certainly disappointed that I don’t get to go to the state tournament, but honestly I’m just glad that I got to have a sectional tournament.”
Winters and the Bulldogs ranked eighth as a unit with a 427 total. Their No. 2 score came from sophomore Kayla McKinney (101).
Other area programs represented at the sectional — Iroquois West and Tuscola — were led, respectively, by sophomore Adelynn Scharp (98, 29th) and sophomore Makenna Fiscus (102, tied for 36th).