Written by Dennis Mahoney.
The members of the Evanston golf team saved their best for last --- and made some history --- Saturday at the Illinois High School Association Class 3A state tournament at The Den golf course in Bloomington.
Led by 11th place individual finisher Jackson Mihevc, the Wildkits produced their best postseason performance in program history and tied for 7th place in the team standings with Prospect with a two-day total of 310-316-626.
Only one other ETHS team has ever cracked the top 10, as the 1959 squad placed eighth. After 36 holes last weekend, coach Jed Curtis’ squad trailed only Hinsdale Central (603), New Trier (616), Glenbrook North (617), Quincy (617), Benet Academy (619) and St. Viator (625).
“Our objective this year was to play as long as we could and make the season last. We had a tremendous weekend,” Curtis said. “They put everything out there and played hard right until the end.
“We weren’t just happy to be there. We talked about how yes, it was our goal to get Downstate, but that didn’t mean we were ready to stop having fun --- or stop playing. This whole run we put together in the postseason we talked about never giving up, never quitting, and they never did.”
Mihevc tied for 11th place overall at 76-73-149 and Henry Gruger tied for 31st at 73-83-156 to lead the Wildkits in the two-day test. Jake Casati added a 78-83-160, tied for 49th place.
Also competing for the Wildkits were Evan Ter Molen, who didn’t play on Friday but turned in the team’s second lowest score --- a 78 --- when the senior was inserted into the lineup for the final 18 holes, replacing classmate Marty Fenn. Juniors Bill Nondorf (83-93-176) and Sam Knepper (83-95-178) gained valuable experience in their respective first trips to State, too.
All in all, it was definitely a team effort in a sport where the focus is typically on individual performances.
“In the past three weeks this team transformed from individuals who were just playing for themselves, to a group that wanted to play for each other,” Curtis praised. “They wanted to make it special for everyone.
“We really liked the course down there because we felt like it played into our games as a team. It’s very generous off the tee and rewards long hitters, and we have some guys who pride themselves on hitting long. We took advantage of that.”
“It was just an awesome experience,” said Mihevc, who qualified as an individual as a sophomore. “It’s an amazing way for us to end the season. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
“On Friday I just grinded through and was still able to put up a pretty good number (76). I had no double or triple bogeys, so I never gave away more than one shot on a hole. Then on Saturday the wind was pretty tough, but I was able to shoot even par on the back 9 anyway. I drove the ball well and I never got in too much trouble. I made a lot of 5-10 foot putts, too, on both days.”
“Jackson is one of our toughest kids whenever he’s coming off a bogey,” Curtis said. “He’s like Tiger Woods that way, because he knows how to dial it up when he gets frustrated. He was in some tough spots on the front 9 on Friday, but he was really a steady Eddie on both days.”
Mihevc accomplished Evanston’s highest finish since Sherman Finger took 2nd in 1960 and 9th in 1959. Only four other Wildkit players have placed in the top 15 at State in program history.
Gruger’s blazing start on Friday with a one-over-par 73 resulted in a natural letdown on Saturday, but the senior wasn’t about to complain about being part of a historic effort.
“I was hitting the ball great on Friday and I felt like everything really came together for me,” he said. “I hit 12 of 14 fairways and my wedge shots were really good, too. I was hitting the ball great.
“I started out rough on Saturday (two double bogeys and a quad) on the front 9. It was disappointing and I wish I could have finished better. But I’m very happy with the way the whole season went. Our AD (athletic director Chris Livatino) said we were the best team ever to play at Evanston, and that’s just an amazing feeling. I’m very proud of what we’ve done.
“Everyone contributed for this team this year. Sam Knepper really came out of nowhere for us at the regional and sectional and gave us that fourth score that we needed. He really helped us out at the end.”
Curtis also singled out another unsung hero, volunteer assistant coach Sean Bostrom, a former player at ETHS and a 2006 graduate.
“Sean has been a huge part of our success over the past three years,” Curtis noted. “I think this year was redemption for him because he was part of a team that had the best shot at getting down before this, but didn’t make it.
“He worked with each kid on their swings, their fundamentals and their mental game. He’s a great student of the game and he’s worked with the seniors since their freshman year. It’s just amazing how giving he’s been to this program.”