Golf teams capture second at state

Central boys and girls teams both narrowly miss titles after two-day tournaments

Hinsdale Central senior Alex Rasmussen opted to eschew his driver in the cool, windy conditions at the IHSA boys golf state final tournament Friday and Saturday in Bloomington. Choosing precision over power off the tee paid off as he finished his Red Devil career with All-State honors, carding a two-round 149 and tying for sixth place.

"I was able to manage the tough weather and course well, leading to two good rounds," Rasmussen said. "I was able to keep the ball in play, and my putting saved me in key situations."

His teammates performed well, too, earning four top-25 finishes. Unfortunately the effort fell just short of a championship, which went to New Trier by a final 598-600 tally. The Devils also were runner-up to the Trevians last year. By two strokes.

"It was pretty disappointing for us that we got second for the second year in a row by just 2 strokes. All year we held the belief that we were the best team in the state, and most of the time we proved it," Rasmussen said.

Senior Jack Mulligan, who shot 156 for a tie for 25th place, said the team left it all on the course.

"This weekend I thought the team played their hearts out, and falling just short of the state title hurt the entire team deeply," he related. "We worked really hard and wanted it really bad, but despite taking second, it showed how much this game meant to the entire team."

The rivals were knotted at 301 after Friday's round, teeing up what promised to be a tense Saturday. Head coach Serge Penksik said the The Den at Fox Creek course is always test for the nerves and is even more rigorous when gusts sweep across the wide open tract.

"That's why this golf course delivers drama every year," Penksik said. "It's not often that a team can run away with the title."

New Trier tried to separate with a strong start on Saturday, but the Devils battled back. Junior Kevin Wesolowski shot 150 to tie for 12th, while senior Devin Swoyer recorded 151 for 16th. Penksik was proud of his side's tenacity.

"They hung in there and kept fighting. It was brutal out there, and it takes a lot out of you playing under those conditions. But they were fighting for every putt," he said. "Hats off to New Trier, they were doing the same."

Wesolowski said playing PGA Tour-level course Conway Farms in Lake Forest this season helped hone their games.

"The course was in such great shape and we got the win," he said.

Juniors Dru Devata and Rory Healy placed 49th (tie) and 56th (tie), respectively, and, with Wesolowski, are expected to comprise a formidable and experienced core for next year's roster.

Swoyer said the team's bond is like a brotherhood.

"High school golf for me was always the most fun part of the year and every year the guys on the team form such a unique bond," he said.

Mulligan praised the camaraderie that defined the team throughout the season.

"The chemistry we had was like nothing I have experienced before, and I couldn't be more grateful to close out my career with all 11 of these wonderful guys. I'm going to miss Hinsdale Central golf, but it will always be a part of who I am moving forward," Mulligan said.

Rasmussen echoed that, relishing the good memories he's made that run deeper than any disappointment.

"It was still such a fun season and tournament for us, and we have grown so close to each other as friends and teammates, more so than in years past," he said. "I have so much respect for all the work and dedication that my teammates have put in to getting to where we got to, and even if we didn't win, we can be super proud of that."

Girls battle to the finish

Heading into Saturday's round of the IHSA state tournament in Decatur, the Hinsdale Central girls golf team knew its two-stroke lead after Friday play was anything but safe. Glenbrook North was in striking distance, and senior Caroline Owens knew the contest would come down to the end.

"The girls on both of our teams are super hard-working and super good players," Owens said.

In the end, the Spartans flipped the script on the Red Devils, edging them out by two strokes for the title, 603- 605. Central was looking to go back-to-back after last year's championship run.

"We knew that we all had tried our hardest and, in the end, we still felt proud of how we'd done," Owens said.

The University of Notre Dame recruit rose to the occasion of her final state tournament, posting a two-day team-leading score of 147 and third place overall.

"I played really well compared to years prior because I'd learned from my mistakes in the past," she said. "It was great to finish strong this season."

Junior Elyssa Abdullah was next on the team with 149, which earned her seventh place individually. Abdullah, state runner-up last year, said she didn't have her "A" game on Saturday.

"I just wasn't having the best round. I wasn't making the putts I was making the first day," she said.

A downpour during Thursday's practice round limited preparation. The team woke up to chilly conditions with winds gusting above 20 mph for the first round Friday.

Owens said she makes a point of training in bad weather for just these occasions.

"It's a great time to practice because if you face that in a tournament, you have that knowledge and ability to adjust to the conditions," she explained.

Central fell behind early before taking over the top spot by the end of the first day.

Head coach Nick Latorre said Glenbrook North was just the sharper squad on Saturday.

"It was two very evenly matched teams. They just played a little bit more consistently down the stretch," Latorre said.

Owens said the team tried not to have a "title or bust" mindset but just play within themselves. And she intentionally avoids glancing at the leaderboard.

"I always play better when I don't watch it," she said. "We realized that we can't worry about the score but to just worry about what we we're doing and focus on our own game."

Abdullah said the team had a phenomenal season and was disappointed that the campaign didn't close with yet another first-place trophy.

In addition to the two All-State honorees, junior Toral Bhatt tied for 15th with a 153, sophomore Lilly Riegger tied for 34th with a 159 and senior Parker Matthews shot 162 to tie for 40th.

Latorre lauded both the talent and the spirit of the members.

"It was fun to be around the girls," he said. "They had a really good time hanging out with each other, and they developed a really strong team bond and chemistry."

He shared his message to the departing seniors after returning home.

"I told them, 'You left the program better than you found it, and that's all you can ask.' " Latorre said, adding that hardship can cultivate strength. "These are growth opportunities."

Abdullah said she's already eager for 2024.

"I'm just going to use (this result) as motivation and build off of that," she said. "I'm just excited for new season because I want to redeem myself."

Owens said the ending was bittersweet, but the sweetness will endure.

We're all super close, so being done brings some sad emotions," she admitted. "This team has been really great for the last four years."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean