The Prairie Fire were well represented this past weekend during the Division III Midwest Conference Women’s Golf Championship, hosted in Rockford, Ill. from Oct. 5-7. The team itself has only three members, making it too small to compete as a team. However, they can compete as individuals, and they made an impact upon the course, despite what they lacked in numbers, more than holding their own against full-fledged teams from rival schools such as Grinnell.
The tournament itself was slated for three days of competition. Inclement weather forced a cancellation of the last day of the tournament. The competition was beset by rainstorms throughout, creating difficult course conditions and adding a level of discomfort. But it would take more than rain and thunder to keep the Prairie Fire from the leaderboard and after two days in Rockford, they returned home with a plethora of awards, capping off a well-played fall season.
Sophomore Shelby Keen was among those who did well at the Conference Championship, remaining steadily among the top 10 during both days of the competition, and earning All-Conference honors, a medal and a fifth place finish. Keen didn’t allow the weather or her competitors to dampen her experience, describing it, via text, as “a fun weekend.”
“The competition was cut a little short from the rain, but I still played consistent golf despite the weather,” Keen said. “I shot an 81 the first day of the tournament and an 82 the second day. The course was soaking wet, and I honestly think that, if it had just been a regular tournament, they probably would have just called it and canceled the tournament, but since it was a conference game we played through the wet fairways and muddy roughs.”
Keen, who had already been playing a solid game, shooting an 81 average, came into the tournament prepared for what was ahead, having just shot her lowest score less than a week before.
“The Tuesday prior, I shot my best score ever against Iowa Wesleyan and about four other schools to post a 74,” Keen said.
When asked about her overall impressions about the team’s performance, Keen had nothing but pride for their accomplishments.
“I’m proud of my team, especially the new freshman, Lynsie [Pietrazk]. She really improved a bunch towards the end of the season. She’s absolutely a great addition to our team, and I can’t wait to have an actual team with four girls next year,” Keen said.
Pietrazk has been playing golf since she was introduced to it at age 7. Although she is still getting used to Knox, she has had a “pretty good season” nonetheless. She found the team welcoming and more than willing to help her along as she continues to grow as a golfer and improve her game, and says that she gets along with her teammates “really well.”
Pietrazk might have met her teammates for the first time this year, but she knew the assistant coach of the golf team before she arrived. Assistant coach J.C. Wise taught at her high school, Woodstock North High School in Woodstock, Ill., as the head coach of the golf team there.
“It’s really helped out to have him around, because it means I still kind of have a parent figure even though I’m away from home,” said Pietrazk.
Although she was not among the top 10 to finish at the Midwest Conference, she came back to Knox with her eyes on the future, to the next season.
“While I was not happy with my overall performance at the Midwest Conference Championship, I improved by seven strokes during the second day of the tournament. That gives me a lot of hope as I go into the winter break. I’m looking forward to working over the winter and shooting lower scores in the spring season,” Pietrazk said.
Junior Samantha Nichols, who returned to Knox as the overall seventh place finalist at the Midwest Conference Championship, and All-Conference member for the third consecutive year, thought that the team was able to effectively deal with the nerves that accompany a conference tournament. She also took the time to briefly reflect on her own performance.
“We practiced as a team for the conference championship, which was nothing all too different from what we did during the rest of the season. We just all worked so hard going into this last stretch of the season,” said Nichols via text. “While the weather wasn’t exactly in our favor, I think we were more than able to push past our nervousness for the 36 holes that we needed to play. I’m happy with the way things turned out, considering how rough of a season it was for me personally. I dealt with a lot of injuries this season, but I’m still hungry for an even better senior season next year.”
Coach Kenneth Harding had high praise for his team.
“Overall, the team has been playing very solid,” Harding said via email. “I feel that the team has excelled in course management and learning how to finish a round. Last season we really had problems with that and this year I feel it is one of our strengths. My hope for the team moving forward is that we continue to develop the players we have while having a good recruiting season. It’s tough for golf because each player’s game is different; however, we will continue to fine tune each player’s swing and teach course management.”
The championship was the last game of the Fall season. The team will train and practice throughout winter for the upcoming spring campaign.