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Golf Insider: Kaneland, Hinckley-Big Rock live up to pre-season expectations

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Spotlight On...

Maggie Russell, DeKalb, freshman

A second-place finish at the Northern Illinois Big 12 East girls golf conference tournament could signal the launch of a solid prep career.

With a plethora of talented players on the frosh/soph team, Russell has seen limited action this season. But she's worked through practice and, given a chance, fired an 87 on Tuesday at Rochelle Country Club for a second-place finish.

"Maggie didn't have a lot of competitive golf experience," DeKalb coach John Cordes said. "But I think she's got the golf bug now. She needs to continue to get better, but she's got the itch to play all the time."

What to watch for

Hinckley-Big Rock and Indian Creek girls at Class 1A Stillman Valley Regional at Prairie View, Wednesday

A late-season surge has the Royals primed to advance to the Genoa-Kingston sectional.

NOTES

Knights return: Kaneland won its third consecutive conference title with a 310 at the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference Tournament Wednesday at Oak Ridge Golf Club.

The Knights shook their midseason funk and showed the promise they displayed at the start of the season.

"The practice we put in on the course Sunday was evident," Kaneland coach Mark Meyer said. "We were well-prepared and played like it. We had a few difficult matches and a stretch of dual matches from Marengo, Sycamore and Yorkville where collectively we didn't play our best, but we always believed at practices. We knew we could get back to where we were and have played better at the end of the season."

Legacy golf for H-BR girls: Consistent scores has the Royals poised to advance as a team out of the Class 1A Stillman Valley Regional at Prairie View Golf Club.

Led by a pair of sophomores with golf in their DNA, Taylor Prellberg, whose father Todd Prellberg is the Royals' former coach and Emily Hermann, whose sister Brittany was a standout golfer, H-BR has peaked in time for playoffs.

"I think we are ready to go on a regional run," H-BR girls coach Greg Jourdan said. "We are in a position to shoot low scores. We are battle-tested mentally and physically. We are no longer a young golf team."

Royals' injury update: H-BR senior captain Luke Winkle's return from a left shoulder sprain gave the Royals an emotional boost at the Little Ten Conference Tournament. Winkle will do what it takes to be on the course for the playoffs, even if he's physically less than 100 percent.

"Luke is going to therapy every other day," H-BR coach Rod Jandt said. "It's a sprain and he'll play through it even if he's only 60 or 70 percent."

Barbs' upside: A fast start at Oak Ridge couldn't be maintained as DeKalb finished last in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East.

After 13 wide-open holes, Oak Ridge has five long closing holes with tight fairways lined by heavily wooded areas.

"We has a tough day," DeKalb coach John Cordes said. "We got off to three strong starts, but a few bad holes were too much to overcome."

Freshman Ben Melms continues to show promise as he tied team-best honors with an 84.

VIEWS

High expectations followed a pair of area golf teams after banner 2011 campaigns.

With lineups loaded with returnees, Kaneland and H-BR were supposed to roll to repeat conference titles. But athletic events don't take place in a vacuum. Nerves, opponents' best effort and injuries have taken down many defending champions.

The Knights and Royals overcame all of it with gutsy conference winning performances in the last week. Strong leadership from players and the right tweaks from coaches are why each program remains amongst the area's elite.

"We were a little humbled this season," H-BR coach Rod Jandt said. "We had high expectations and with Luke Winkle injured for three weeks we had scores that were trending higher."

Philosophically, Jandt might be the best coach in the area. His ability to help players focus and build a program is without peer. His recalibration of practice put the Royals on the right track.

"We took a more disciplined approach," Jandt said. "We had some work stations that took us back to fundamentals. We worked on grip pressure, contact, take away and other basics. We thought about hitting shots and got back to the grind."

At Kaneland, coach Mark Meyer kept his player's psyche from being dismantled by midseason struggles.

"We knew we were better than what we'd shown," Meyer said. "We always knew we could get back to where we were."

The burden of being a defending champion might be a heavy load, but basics and belief are powerful assets.

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