The Crystal Lake Central co-op girls golf team will be without a familiar face this season.
Lexi Harkins, a three-time Northwest Herald Girls Golfer of the Year, is no longer on the team, but that won’t dampen the Tigers’ spirits as they look to build on last year’s success, which included Fox Valley Conference and county meet titles.
Harkins returned her senior season after using her junior year to play in amateur tournaments and secure a college scholarship (North Carolina). With Harkins back, Central went undefeated, winning regionals and sectionals and placing fifth overall at state.
Losing Harkins to graduation won’t be easy, admits Tigers coach Kathy Speaker, but the team is up for the challenge.
“We’re calling this season, ‘Life Without Lexi,’” Speaker said. “We can’t replace her, but we can learn from her.”
“Lexi brought a seriousness to the game. She showed us what it was like to be competitive and still treat people the right way. I’m very proud of this group because they are honest, they are friendly and they work hard.”
Despite losing the area’s best golfer from a year ago, the Tigers remain a top contender in the FVC. Returning for Central are seniors Larisa Luloff and Emily Jean.
Both have been on the varsity team since their freshman year, and both were key contributors to Central’s state-qualifying team in 2013.
Luloff collected second-place finishes at the McHenry County meet, the FVC meet and regionals, while Jean finished fifth at county, fourth at FVC and sixth at regionals. At the Class AA state tournament, Luloff and Jean each recorded top-50 finishes.
Lauren Kalamaras, who was the player of the year in this summer’s McHenry County Junior Golf Association’s senior girls division, rounds out the top three. The team is still searching for its fourth, with junior Brittany Reid in the running.
Luloff, Jean and Kalamaras, all of Cary-Grove, are excited to start the season and will apply lessons learned from Harkins.
“Lexi has an amazing work ethic,” Kalamaras said. “It’s nonstop and it’s something we try to bring to the golf course every day.”
“Lexi taught us to have fun on the golf course,” Luloff said. “I’ve learned that if you’re really tense and nervous, you’re not going to play as well. If you just relax and go with it, you’ll play better. Focus, but still have fun with it.”
Also in the FVC, McHenry rosters a foursome including sophomore sisters Hannah Ogden and Maddie Ogden and seniors Abby Ross and Lok Yan Fik. Other top golfers include Huntley’s Gillian Young, who won this summer’s MCJGA Tournament of Champions, Prairie Ridge’s Erin Wing and Dundee-Crown’ Kylie Kost. Jacobs and Hampshire will co-op for the first time.
Elsewhere, the Big Northern Conference returns a strong team in Richmond-Burton, led by senior Blake Betke and sophomore Mackenzie Hahn. The Rockets went undefeated during the regular season (17-0), claiming conference, regional and sectional championships en route to a ninth-place finish at state.
Betke finished first at the BNC meet, third at regionals, second at sectionals and 33rd at Class A state. R-B also will get a boost from senior Kat Cummings, who coach Brandon Creason called his most improved golfer.
“It’s a tough act to follow when you set the bar so high,” Creason said. “But this group is capable of great things. They have their work cut out for them.”
Other top golfers in the BNC East include Johnsburg’s Emma Johnson, Marengo’s Monica Millard and Harvard’s Kayleigh Isonhart.
Sophomore Sophia Archos will lead Marian Central in its first season in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. Archos made it all the way to sectionals as a freshman last season, and coach Paula Watson believes a state berth is possible for her. Senior Emily Johnson also qualified for sectionals.