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Evanston’s girls golfers made program history Wednesday at the Loyola Academy Regional tournament.

The Wildkits qualified a record three individuals — Clara Lynk, Katie Gemmell and Drew Patterson —  for the sectional tournament and scored a 5th place finish in the team standings, also a program best.

Coach Karilyn Joyce’s squads haven’t enjoyed much postseason success in her 24 seasons at the helm. But the current group scored a breakthrough at Glencoe Golf Club with a team score of 393, including a 90 by Lynk and 98s by both Gemmell and Patterson.

All three earned at-large qualifying berths to next Monday’s Conant Sectional after New Trier (338), Loyola Academy (340) and Glenbrook South (368) claimed the automatic team qualifying spots.

All three ETHS golfers have carded better scores during the regular season, so Wednesday’s showing wasn’t a case of  long shots coming through with their best respective career rounds. That effort was more the result of the hard work the entire squad put in from the start of the season in August until now.

As a group, the Wildkits even played a practice round on Monday at the Glencoe course to get more familiar with what it would take to lower their scores. That might seem like a normal preparation step for most programs, but it reflected the unusual (for Evanston) seriousness with which the Kits take their sport.

That’s what separates them from past teams she’s coached if you ask Joyce.

“Since they get out of school early on Mondays (2 p.m. dismissal), they all decided to go to the course and play as many holes as they could,” said Joyce. “We also played two other rounds here before. But coming out on Monday was all them. This is the most serious group of girls I’ve ever coached and we’ve never had a team come out multiple times for practice rounds on the regional course.

“It’s a great change for us. The JV (junior varsity) girls are a serious group, too,  and I hope our younger ones get the fever for the playoff season like the older girls.”

Joyce structured the season so the Wildkits competed in a total of five 18-hole invitationals, and solid showings in most of those tournaments made the players believe they could compete at a higher level.

“We’ve been known for having a kinda laid-back program,” said Lynk, a senior who rallied from a slow start to post a 47-43-90 score. “But we all really wanted to succeed — we have some serious girls on this team who have taken lessons — and we knew we had maybe our strongest team ever this year. We  knew we had a chance and I know that next year they’re really going to be successful, too.

“It’s been a long process for us, but it’s really exciting. I felt like those practice rounds really helped me a lot today. I felt more comfortable playing here, I knew what was coming (as far as the course layout), and how I should prepare myself mentally. I knew that if I started out bad I could still pull through.”

That’s exactly what happened as Lynk  posted quadruple bogeys on the first and second holes, not exactly the best start for someone with designs on advancing to the next level. But the senior standout recovered with a birdie on the No. 11 hole and 3 more pars on the back nine to keep her season alive.

“After that (bad) start it was really hard to remind myself to stay focused, stay solid and stay strong,” she explained. “Last year this wouldn’t have been possible for me. I wasn’t this consistent.

“My driver was really helpful today (she crushed a 240-yard drive on the final par-5) and I sank a lot of second putts, too.”

Juniors Gemmell and Patterson both agreed that the sneak preview provided by Monday’s practice paid dividends for them, although Patterson had to overcome a score of 53 on the longer back nine.

“I was more relaxed today because we played here Monday,” said Patterson. “I took extreme notes, and so did the other girls, trying to figure out exactly what clubs to use. We tried to play as many holes as we could.

“My front 9 was OK — my goal was no 7s — but on the back I had four 7s in a row at one point. I was swinging too hard on my tee shots. Getting to the sectional is not exactly a surprise for us. We were expecting something good to happen and with Clara and Katie in the 80s, and me in the 90s zone now, it looked to me like this was where we were heading.”

For Gemmell, there was a case of déjà vu in her return to the Glencoe course where she first picked up a club at age 5.

“This is really exciting,” she said. “Last year I missed out by 2 strokes and I was really determined to get to the next level this year. My first 9 (51) wasn’t good, but I’m proud of myself because I was able to take something not-so-good and turn it into something to be proud of.

“I didn’t take things seriously enough on the front nine and once I got focused and put my mind to it, I was able to turn things around. I’ve played here since I was a little girl and it was nice to come back and go down memory lane again. It’s always been a very challenging course, but there are opportunities to score well, too.

“I’m driving the ball better than I did last year. This past weekend I had some lessons and focused more on driving straight, hitting it high and low, because like Canal Shores (ETHS home course) this is a narrow course. You’ve got to be more precise on a course like this.”

Gemmell pointed out that the entire squad had confidence entering the 18-hole test. “We knew we were good enough to come in here and do well,” she added.  “We have the drive and the best is still to come.”

Also competing for the Wildkits were senior Maddy Tully (54-53-107), senior Kim Jolie (63-54-117) and junior Echo Allen (61-58-119).

Loyola’s Mary Biesen claimed medalist honors with a 2-over-par 75.

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.

Dennis Mahoney

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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