Madeline Sanders putts the ball on No. 17 at The Rail Golf Course in the Class 1A Sectional Thursday. Sanders finished with a 93. (photo/Mike Monahan)

By Mike Monahan

SPRINGFIELD – There will be no state girls golf championship, so Thursday’s IHSA Class 1A sectional at The Rail Golf Course had to do.

Even if it the results prompt some ‘What ifs?’

Charleston, which entered the sectional with the fifth best score among eight teams heading into Thursday’s final event of the season, shot the second best team tally. 

On a cool and blustery day, Charleston tallied 375 strokes to finish tied for second with St. Thomas More, 26 strokes behind Sacred Heart-Griffin.

Under normal circumstances, the top three teams would have advanced to the state tournament, and a tiebreaker with the No. 5 scorers from each team would have given Trojans second alone. 

It is the first time since 2017 that Charleston has placed second in the sectional. That team finished sixth in the state tournament. 

“We said going into this that if we played well we could get second and we tied for second,” said Charleston coach Todd Keating, in his second year. “The best thing about that is that it tells the girls they are good enough. There were a lot of slopes  and tricky greens here, but I love the course.  I was happy with everyone. They did a great job. I have come to expect it, too. I have seen it so many times that the depth of the team is great. There is always backup and so someone is going to have someone’s back. Seeing four scores in the 90s doesn’t really surprise me. There is nothing wrong with a 375. I know the team could do better if we all had good days. That is the great thing that they can come out here and have average days and we still score very well. “

Individually, there was a three-way tie for first with 79s. Faith Davis of Williamsville came out on top, beating Sophia Lowis of Sacred-Heart Griffin and Karile Schnepp of Rochester. 

The Rail is a par 72 and is 5,406 yards. It was the home of the State Farm Rail Classic from 1976-2006 and was rated four stars by Golf Digest as well as continually voted as one of the best places to play golf in Central Illinois. 

“We just were trying to do our best since there is no state,” said Charleston junior Stacey Zerbst. “We were out here just trying to have fun and do our best, and I feel like we accomplished that goal.”

Zerbst led Charleston with a 90, which was good for a 13th-place tie among 63 golfers who finished. 

“I felt really good,” said Zerbst. “The back was better than the front, but sadly I had one messed up hole on the back and that was No. 14 (382-yard, par 4). I came back from that and I did really well. I did better than expected with a 45 on the front nine and a 45 on the back nine. I started a little wonky on the front, but I still had some pars.”

Zerbst bounded back on No. 15 (a 395-yard, par 5) with the strength of her iron play. 

“I used three irons to get on to the green and bogeyed the next hole, which was a par 5. I am happy with that. The green was very hard for a par 5. I was three-putting, but I was totally fine with that. The greens were interesting. They were very good and very sloped. I analyzed the greens, but some of them I felt were weird as some didn’t break, but they showed a break. I felt like I did a lot better on most of the greens as I two-putted almost every hole.”

CHS returned all its starters from last year’s ninth-place sectional squad. Hannah Harpster, the only senior on this team, tied for 19th with teammate Madeline Sanders at 93. 

On No. 18, a 352-yard par 4, Harpster was within 150 yards after her tee shot. Her second shot was on the green and, after just missing a 15-foot birdie by six inches, she tapped it in for par. 

“I definitely was thinking it was my last putt and I did the same on Senior Night and regionals,” said Harpster. “This is my last of these things. There is always going to be those, but I hope to play in college. Hopefully, this wasn’t my last for anything.”

Harpster was on the sixth-place team as a freshman, ninth place in the sectional as a junior and seventh place in the sectional as a sophomore.

Last year, she won the regional individually with an 89, had an 87 as a sophomore and a 100 as a freshman. She shot a 175 in the two-day state tournament for 48th place after carding a 92 in the sectional in 2017.

“My score today could have been a lot better,” said Harpster. “I played here my freshman year and shot the exact same score. I know I got nervous . I don’t want to leave. I know it is a great team.”

Harpster was happy with the last three holes. 

“They were definitely my best holes of the round,” said Harpster. “Before that, I just had some tough shots. The wind made it harder for everyone though. The greens were quicker than what we have played all year. It was a challenge. We had not placed in the top two since my freshman year so this is great. We did well as a team. I knew I had to kick it in the last three holes. Bogey golf is good, but I knew if I parred I could stay in the low 90s and so I did. I love knowing that we would have gone to state and that is a great thing.”

Charleston girls’ golf (from left): Madeline Sanders, Malia Hodges, Hannah Harpster, Taryn Pearson, Rileigh Babbs and Stacey Zerbst. The Lady Trojans went 17-1 in dual matches.

Taryn Pearson, with a 99, reached her goal of shooting under 100. 

“The front nine was good, but on the back I fell apart the last couple of holes,” said Person. “My driver wasn’t going very well. My irons were kind of good, but it just wasn’t a consistent day. The greens are very sloped and it came into play a lot. I am proud of how we did throughout the season (17-1 with the only loss to Effingham). I am glad we made it as a team. We are going to lose Hannah next year and I am looking forward to seeing what she does in college and what we do next year as a team.”

Rileigh Babbs shot a 107 and Tessa Brown competed, but withdrew. 

Zerbst was happy about being the top golfer of the day for CHS. 

“I was very happy and surprised,” said Zebrst. “I feel pretty good about getting the lowest score. I feel like I can continue this and help with the other girls as they continue to grow. I think all of the girls did very well.”

Keating said the team missed a few 18-hole tournaments this year due to COVID-19. 

“Hannah is the kind of girl who is a pleasure to have on the golf team regardless of what she shoots,” said Keating. “She is a young woman with good character and that is tremendous.”

Keating also feels sad for Harpster having missed last year with a knee injury, keeping her out of sectionals. 

“I feel a little bit of sorrow because she has her injury which really cost her two years of the golf she was capable of,” said Keating. “I look forward to seeing what her golf game is like in college.”