Written by Dennis Mahoney.
Just like all of the coaches of the top boys golf programs in the state of Illinois, Evanston’s Jed Curtis is constantly repeating the mantra to his players of grinding out hole-by-hole scores and taking it one shot at a time.
Chalk one up for Curtis’ grinders.
Evanston ended a long drought and qualified its entire team for the Illinois High School Association state golf finals for the first time since 1959, earning a Downstate trip with a third place finish at Monday’s Class 3A Marist Sectional tournament held at Old Oak Country Club in Homer Glen.
The Wildkits made every shot count and edged Loyola Academy by one stroke for the final automatic team qualifying berth. Evanston fired a 306 to Loyola’s 307 and only trailed Glenbrook North (293) and New Trier (301) in the 12-team field. Evanston will compete in the two-day state finals on Friday and Saturday in Bloomington.
A closing burst by the top four ETHS scorers --- Jackson Mihevc with a 37-34-71, Henry Gruger with a 35-41-76, Sam Knepper with a 39-38-78 and Jake Casati with a 44-37-81 --- made the difference as the foursome accounted for a pair of birdies and two pars on the 18th hole.
“Right now, emotionally it’s hard for me to keep it together when I stop and think about it,” admitted Curtis while basking in congratulations from fellow coaches in the Central Suburban League. “When I left the football program and took over the golf program 12 years ago, I had the goal of taking this program Downstate.
“It’s immensely satisfying to get the whole team there. Everybody contributed to this is some way, and now everybody gets to be a part of it. There are a lot of people who have supported this program over the years --- parents, the community and our athletic director Chris Livatino --- and the kids who came before this group and passed down the expectations of where we wanted this program to go had a part in it, too.
“This was the last chance for the seniors to make it happen and they were hungry to do it after missing out last year. We just never gave up.”
Mihevc, one of four seniors on the squad, qualified as an individual in the past but said there was no comparison to the feeling of the entire team advancing in a sport that generally isn’t considered a “team” sport.
“Everyone was just awesome today!” Mihevc exclaimed. “I didn’t want to be on that (Downstate) bus alone this year, I wanted my teammates there, too. It’s really like a family here. It just feels awesome to have Evanston finally do something in the golf world. All that preparation and practice finally paid off for all of us.
“Coach Curtis is always telling us to grind it out, and the way we did it today was pretty unreal. As a freshman when I came in here, I didn’t really understand what going to State meant. Now I’ve matured and grown as a person, not just as a golfer, and golf has helped shape me a lot as a person.”
Mihevc placed third as an individual with an even par 71 behind two golfers from the CSL, medalist Nick Hardy of Glenbrook North with a 66 and Orion Yamat of Maine East with a 70. The Evanston senior played in the same foursome with Hardy.
“It’s just amazing to watch Hardy play. I told myself just to stay within 5 shots of him and you’ll have a pretty good round,” said Mihevc, who scored birdies on No. 7, No. 15 and No. 16. “When I got to the 18th hole I had a feeling that every stroke mattered for us as a team. I got up and down by chipping to within 8 feet, and then I put that putt in.”
“It’s amazing, it’s really a crazy feeling,” added Gruger. “This was our goal all year and really, it was just a matter of putting four scores together when we needed to. This is the first time we’ve made it since 1959 --- and it’s insane to think that was even before my Dad was born.
“I had a great front nine because I was hitting every green and I had two birdies (No. 3 and No. 7). I only had one birdie on the back nine and I was starting to think we weren’t going to make it as a team. But I chipped in on the 18th hole for that 76, and apparently that was a big shot.”
Knepper and Casati were big shot-makers, too.
“We surprised everyone today, but we didn’t surprise ourselves,” said Knepper. “This still hasn’t really sunk in yet, though. We knew we just had to go out there and grind, because that’s been our theme all year. Today I got a good start and I was just able to keep it going.
“On the 18th hole I hit over the green and into some thick rough, so I had to hit high. I opened up my club face and tried to plop it in, and I got within 6 feet of the hole. At that point I was just worried about the whole team making it, not me. It wouldn’t be the same without the others. It’s just amazing how we came together today.”
Casati was the only Wildkit besides Mihevc to score better on the back nine than on the front, recovering from a start that he described as “brutal.”
“I started off bad and I had an 8 on the No. 9 hole, and that was just brutal,” Casati said. “But you don’t know when your score is going to count and I knew I just had to keep battling. I actually put myself in good position to get some birdies, even though I went bogey-bogey-bogey to start the back nine. I just knew I needed to make a comeback and post a good score, because you never know if it will count.
“It’s an amazing feeling. This is so huge for our school, and most importantly, I’m glad we could do it for Coach Curtis. Golf is his life and I’m so proud to be a part of getting him to State.”
Girls Cross-Country Team Takes 6th at Walt Disney World XC Classic
The varsity girls cross-country team flew to Orlando, FL, over the weekend to race in the Walt Disney Cross Country Classic, and placed 6th out of 34 teams in their division.
"The prior day’s early morning flight meant they were short on sleep, but they were certainly not short on energy," coach Jessica Herrmann said in an e-mail.
The top five finishers from ETHS clocked the 11th fastest average time among the 105 varsity teams who competed, according to Herrmann. Kyla Steman was the Kits' first finisher, coming in 17th place with a time of 19:53. She was followed by Emma Dzwierzynski (35th) at 20:53 and Cami Zecker (48th) at 21:09.
The cross-country team competes in the conference meet this weekend.