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Now entering her 20th season as head coach for the Evanston girls golf team, Karilyn Joyce has always emphasized the fact that she wants her players to simply have fun.

Of course, Joyce knows she’s coaching a sport where everyone keeps score. But as the longest tenured coach in the Central Suburban League, Joyce acknowledges the hurdles she’s had to overcome just to keep the Wildkit program alive and can remember the days when players came into the high school program having never played the sport as youngsters. Some of them came to the first day of tryouts not even knowing how to keep score, or didn’t know how to hold an iron properly.

“Those are things the coaches at New Trier never have to worry about,” noted Joyce prior to Evanston’s season debut at Tuesday’s Huntley Invitational tournament. “We don’t have the number of country club kids they have, and the ones we do have — they don’t play golf. The commitment just isn’t the same as it is at the schools we’re competing against. In years past it was like pulling teeth just to get them to play at all in the summer.”

Under those circumstances, Joyce has tempered her own expectations over the years while recognizing that she’s teaching her players a life sport that they may enjoy even more after they don’t wear an ETHS uniform anymore. But the program has definitely made strides even if that improvement hasn’t shown up yet in the league standings.

And there’s plenty for Joyce to be encouraged about for the 2014 season as the Kits tackle the heavyweights on their schedule. Three of the leading scorers from last year’s squad — led by senior captain Peggy Giordano — are returning, and the numbers have never been better, with approximately 23 players combined expected to suit up for the varsity and junior varsity teams.

Joyce expects a total of five freshmen to participate once classes start up, and while that might not seem like a big number at places like New Trier or Glenbrook South or Maine South, those are the numbers that add up to the kind of depth that leads to better competition within the squad and more lineup flexibility for the Wildkits.

For example, Joyce said based on preseason tryouts that freshman Catie Labranche posted one of the best scores overall and will earn a spot in the varsity lineup.

“Catie is going to be a decent little player for us. She’s one of our top five right now, and with as many girls as we have out now, our lineup isn’t set. If another kid shoots a better score, then she’ll be in the lineup,” said the ETHS coach.

“This is the most experience I’ve ever had for the full team coming back, and I love having this big a team, too. There have been some years when we couldn’t field 12 players. Now if girls have to go out of town or miss a meet for some reason, we still have more than enough to fill in. Most of the girls did something in the off-season and used their time wisely, even if they didn’t play in tournaments. I still see it as a plus for us.”

Giordano could be poised for a breakout season after fine-tuning her game this past summer. “I think her whole mental game is better this year,” the coach praised. “Last year getting her to forget the bad shots was hard. She had to realize that every shot you take won’t be perfect. She shot a 40 today at Willowhill (longer layout than the ETHS home course of Canal Shores), and I’m impressed with that. We’ll see how she does when she comes up and plays against the better kids now.”

Giordano and her twin sister, Tina, figure to be mainstays in the Evanston lineup this fall along with junior Liz Jolie, who played at the No. 2 and No. 3 positions on the varsity last year as a sophomore. Senior Sophie Kihm should also be in the mix along with three players who are moving up from the junior varsity level — senior Grace Buszko-Clark, junior Betsy Royse, and sophomore Morgan Maslauski.

Royse is already a success story after having difficulty balancing academics and athletics when she first came to ETHS as a freshman. “When she first came in she didn’t know how to play,” Joyce recalled. “The combination of school and golf was pretty overwhelming for her at first. But she stuck with it and now she loves the game. She made it work when she was a freshman, and now she’s doing very well.”

Individual progress like that, plus the depth mentioned earlier, should help Evanston overcome the loss of last year’s No. 4 starter, CeCe Hansen. Hansen, a junior, has opted to focus on her schoolwork this fall but Joyce doesn’t rule out her returning to the program at some point.

“I’ll miss her as a person and as a player because I’ve known her since she was in sixth grade,” Joyce said. “There’s a lot on your plate when you’re in all of those AP (advanced placement) classes like she is and I understand wanting to focus on your schoolwork. It’s her choice and I’ve already told her she can come back next year. I know she’ll miss the game.”

Source: ETHS Sports Information

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