Both Mattoon and Charleston will be represented at the state golf tournaments, which starts on Friday and ends on Saturday. Mattoon's Kira Wolf looks for another medal at the Class 2A state tournament at Hickory Point Golf Club in Decatur. Charleston, the defending Class 1A team champions, qualified as a team for the fifth season in a row and will compete at Red Tail Run Golf Course in Decatur.
Mattoon's Kira Wolf had an eventful 2A state tournament last season as a freshman with a sixth-place finish. Wolf shot a two-day total of 146 to tie for sixth, but she was only five strokes off from first place. Wolf thinks she is golfing better this season as she goes into the state tournament.
"I am hitting the ball really good and feeling confident that I can shoot a couple of good scores to be at the top," Wolf said. "That would be a great honor to be first, but I would be happy with a top-10 finish, and that's hard to do because there's quite a few good girls. I was hitting really well last year, but I feel like my iron play is very accurate and my drives have been really, really good, so I am excited to see what I can shoot."
Mattoon coach Natalie Ambuehl thinks Wolf has a good chance of being in contention for a top-five spot, even higher.
"She can win it. Just speaking with her, her spirits are good and her confidence is there," Ambuehl said. "Her history shows she is quite capable of playing with any other girl there. She's worked too hard for too long to not reap the benefits at the end. This is it — you find out what you are made of, and I think that she's proven what she is made of."
Wolf already faced some pressure at the regional and sectional. Wolf tied for the top spot at the regional and won a one-hole playoff for the individual regional title. Then at the sectional, she tied for the top spot again and won the playoff hole to be named the individual sectional champion.
"She handled it like a champ, and that's an indicator of who she is," Ambuehl said. "She's calm and collected. I can't wait to watch it unfold."
Last year Wolf shot a 146, and Lincoln-Way Central's Grace Curran shot a 141 to win the title. But Ambuehl isn't sticking a number on what Wolf needs to shoot at the state tournament.
"I hear people throw out numbers, but so much depends on the condition of the course and the temperature and who is used to what and how you handle adversity," Ambuehl said. "It's hard to put a real score at it, but you know it has to be around par."
Wolf knows the course well, too. Hickory Point hosted the state tournament last season, and Mattoon competed at a tournament at Hickory Point earlier this season. Qualifying last season for the state tournament helps Wolf's cause, too.
"She knows what to expect. She has played that course four times and has shot pretty well at this course," Ambuehl said. "I think being there last year, she knows what to look forward to and what it looks like and the process. You can't put a price tag on that."
Wolf will recognize plenty of the top golfers. Out of the top-10 finishers at last year's state tournament, only two graduated. Wolf also golfed with some of the state qualifiers at tournaments this past summer. Wolf defeated Penelope Tir at a tournament this past summer. Tir finished a stroke ahead of Wolf at last year's state tournament.
Wolf expects a lot of competition for not only the top spot but also for a medal.
"We are all so close together. All of us know each other really well and all of us are so good, so it will be a good fight to see who comes out. It will be a pretty good match," Wolf said. "I know their strengths and what they are good at. It gives me confidence that I am also in the pack and that I could beat all of them because I have gone against them and beat them before and it's always been close."
The Lady Trojans are the defending 1A state champions, but the team has a bit of a different look this season. Laurel Chappell, who is now golfing for SMU, Aislinn Parish and Ally O'Dell all graduated and were Charleston's top three golfers.
But the Lady Trojans still found a way to regroup and qualify for the state tournament, which was the goal for the season, Charleston coach Deb Landsaw said.
"I am proud of them for what they've done this year, no matter what they do at state," Landsaw said. "Their goal was to get back for the season. I am happy with where we are. I want us to do well, but we've met the goal and that's what I wanted. I know it's going to be tough; there's some good teams out there. It would be tough to be in the top three."
Last year Charleston was considered one of the favorites to win the state title. This year, the Lady Trojans aren't considered in the mix. That also means the pressure isn't on the team like it was last year.
"Play for fun and enjoy the moment and make good choices on your shot selection, but mostly have fun and make memories," Landsaw said. "I am proud of all of them, their behavior, they are nice young ladies, and it's a nice representation of Charleston High School and the community. And I can't ask for much more than that. I think they are going to play their best and that's all I can ask for."
It will be the last event for three Charleston golfers. Haley Walker and Bailey Taylor are both seniors and were a part of last year's state championship team. Abby Logsdon made the varsity roster this season and is a senior.
"Abby gets to experience this, which is great. Bailey and Haley are both happy for her," Landsaw said. "Abby is excited about it. It's just a good way to end it so they can have all of that memory and have a good experience there."