The NIC-10 golf races will look very similar at the top this fall. Boylan is the favorite to capture both the boys and girls crowns.
In the boys’ race, the Titans seek their ninth title in the last 13 seasons, led by four returning starters from last year’s champs. And topping that list is first-team all-NIC-10 selection Zach Schwarzbach and Special Mention pick TJ Baker. Schwarzbach tied for 33rd last season at state with a 156.
The Titans already set the stage for this season by capturing their own Boylan Invitational last week by 28 strokes over second-place Freeport and 36 ahead of third-place Hononegah. Those three schools appear to be the only true contenders for the league crown.
On the girls’ side, the Titans are favored to wrestle the crown away from Rockford Co-op, with Hononegah jumping up among the top contenders as well. Boylan placed seventh in Monday’s Rockford Country Club Open, but still topped the five other NIC-10 schools in that event, edging Rockford Co-op by three strokes, Harlem by 19, Hononegah by 62 and Belvidere Co-op by 121.
The individual talent is deep, with conference MVP Maxine Nesemeier of Freeport back, along with Kate Chavez of Boylan, Emily Schulz of Hononegah and Kristen Sayyalihn of Rockford.
Here is a capsule look at the boys and girls in predicted order of finish:
Coach: John Canova (11th season)
2017 finish: 1st in NIC-10.
Returning starters: Zach Schwarzbach (SR), TJ Baker (JR), Gabe Campos (SR) and Ryan Coady (SR)
Other key players: Nolan Brauns (FR), Austin Gouker (SO)
Analysis: The Titans are favored to collect their ninth NIC-10 title in the last 13 years with four starters back, led by first-team all-NIC-10 selection Zach Schwarzbach, who finished 33rd at last year’s state meet, and TJ Baker, who was Special Mention all-conference.
Coach: Ken Lewis (3rd season)
2017 finish: 2nd in NIC-10
Returning starters: Jacob McCabe (SR), Alex Cortez (JR), Adam He (JR), Alex Thompson (SR).
Other key players: Drew Grygiel (SR), Joe Kasell (FR), Aaron Leighty (SR), Dylan Hamil (SR), Spencer Kerch (SR)
Strengths: Strong top of the order and leadership provided by Jacob McCabe.
Analysis: The Indians are again among the contenders for the conference title, but they have some climbing to do after finishing 36 strokes behind favored Boylan in the season’s opening event.
Coach: Matthew Gallie (14th season)
2017 finish: 5th in NIC-10.
Returning starters: Deven Stewart (JR), Jack Heimer (SR), Gannon Ruckman (SR), Jacob Withrow (SR), Wyatt Fosler (SR)
Other key players: Connor Schumaker (SR).
Strengths: Lots of experience.
Weaknesses: Lack of underclassmen
Analysis: A strong senior class has the Pretzels aiming high. Deven Stewart was an all-NIC-10 performer who tied for 33rd at state last fall. Freeport should be among the teams battling for the conference title.
Belvidere North Blue Thunder
Coach: Alan McCormick (12th season)
2017 finish: 7th in NIC-10
Returning starters: Bennett Baker (JR), Nate Lendman (SO), Ian Hartle (JR), Dakota Westman (JR), Noah Kroll (SR).
Other key players: Alex Sippy (FR), Matt Stark (SR)
Strengths: Experience at the top with state-qualifier Bennett Baker and sectional qualifier Nate Lendman.
Weaknesses: Young and unproven group behind Baker and Lendman
Analysis: The Blue Thunder will be strong at the top. Baker, a first-team all-NIC-10 selection, tied for 75th at state in Class 3A. He, along with sectional qualifier Lendman, give North a strong, experienced presence. But Coach McCormick will have to mold and build some youth and inexperience to fill the 3-6 spots. “Where we finish will be based on how consistent our top four guys can play,” McCormick said. Expect the Blue Thunder to finish among the top four in the NIC-10.
Coach: Skip Gooch (12th season)
2017 finish: 4th in NIC-10
Returning starters: Adam Kuhar (JR), Zeke Stockton (JR), Jack Sweet (SR), Dusitha Thammavongsa (SR)
Key Newcomers: Alex Ferry (FR) and Nollan Sliva (SO)
Analysis: Adam Kuhar, a first-team all-NIC-10 pick, leads a strong Knights team that features four returning starters. Auburn could push for a top-three spot in the conference, but probably doesn’t have the firepower to challenge for the title.
Coach: Eric Blackwell (2nd season)
2017 finish: 3rd in the NIC-10
Returning Starters: Jaxson Pierce (JR)
Key Newcomers: AJ Pruitt (SR), Conner Knuth (SO), Jackson Bergstrom (FR), Andrew Maurer (JR), Evan Olesen (JR).
Analysis: Graduation took a toll on the Vikings, with the loss of league MVP Kyle Ketcham and first-team all-NIC-10 pick Toroy Swanson. Guilford will take a step back from its third-place finish, but has some young talent to build around.
Coach: Scott Lemke (2nd season)
2017 finish: 6th in NIC-10
Returning starters: Eric Steiner (SR), Jordan Alms (SR), Eli Barefield (SO).
Other key players: Zach Burfoot (FR), Isaac Wolf (SR))
Strengths: Youth; Leadership.
Weaknesses: Experience; Depth
Analysis: Coach Lemke looks at this season as a developmental year, with just two seniors and the rest of the squad made up of players with no varsity experience. The Huskies are aiming high, with a finish in the top half the ultimate goal, but sixth or seventh place may be more realistic.
Coach: Jeremy Edwards (2nd season)
2017 finish: 9th in NIC-10
Key players: Joe Wylie (SR); Kevin Jenks (SR), Jacob Fitch (SO), Tanner Dittbenner (SO), Jack Larson (FR), Aiden Krup (FR).
Strengths: Strong summer participation
Analysis: With half of the six-man roster having not played varsity golf, the Bucs will have to learn and grow quickly. The Bucs have a modest goal of climbing from their ninth-place spot last season to seventh or eighth. It will help that the conference meet will be played on their home course of Beaver Creek.
Coach: Jeff Compton (3rd season)
2017 finish: 8th in the NIC-10
Returning starters: Jordan Compton (SO), Nicholas Rundle (SR), John Sandberg (JR), Jack Bathje (JR), Jacksen Marshall (JR)
Key Newcomers: Ben Bathje (FR), Eli Parker (FR), Sam Marshall (FR), Jaden Kosinski (FR), Blake Vangsness (JR)
Strengths: Desire to improve
Weaknesses: Lack of depth and experience
Analysis: Coach Compton’s goals are modest for this year’s E-Rabs: “Win three dual matches in the conference this fall after securing just two in 2017.” He has the experience back to take that small step, but he will be relying heavily on youth, including looking at two freshmen – Bathje and Parker – who will be big contributors in the team’s top six.
Coach: Bruce Beling
2017 finish: 10th in NIC-10
Analysis: Coach Beling is struggling to field a team right now. He has only commitments from two golfers, but hopes to add more..
Coach: Bobby VanSistine (1st season)
2017 finish: 2nd in six-team NIC-10
Key golfers: Kate Chavez (SR), Elizabeth Heim (SR), Anna Flynn (SR), Maddie Solon (SR), Bella Zammuto (JR).
Analysis: Led by Kate Chavez, the Titans are looking to return to the top of the NC-10 this season. And with four returning seniors, Boylan has plenty of experience to carry them there.
Coach: Ben Mena (7th season)
2017 finish: 1st in six-team NIC-10
Returning starters: Katelyn Sayyalinh (JR), Caitlin Waddell (SR), Ahna Doherty (SO)
Other key players: Anna Holmb (FR), Lizzy Villagomez (SO)
Strengths: Top of the lineup is among the best in the area
Weaknesses: Low numbers; Need two golfers to step up for the No. 4 and 5 spots.
Analysis: Rockford Co-op – which is made up of golfers from Auburn, Jefferson, East and Guilford – boast first-team all-NIC-10 star Katelyn Sayyalinh and second-teamer Caitlin Waddell. They, along with Ahna Doherty, provide both a strong and yet young top of the order (only Waddell is a senior). But Coach Mena has to find No. 4-6 golfers from a very young group, and until he does, Rockford will finish behind Boylan and Hononegah.
Coach: Heidi Milner (3rd season)
2017 finish: 3rd in six-team NIC-10
Returning starters: Emily Schultz (SR), Hope Markley (JR)
Other key players: Madi James (SR), Joslin Johnson (SR), Molly Fraser (JR)
Strengths: Good numbers, with 18 golfers on the team; Strong top of the lineup with Emily Schultz and Hope markley, who both qualified for sectionals last year.
Weaknesses: Young, with the team made up mostly of sophomores and freshmen.
Analysis: Despite the loss of four varsity golfers to graduation, the Indians have a strong foundation to build on with Schultz and Markley, who both qualified for sectionals. Coach MIlner said she was impressed with the growth of last year’s junior varsity players. Boylan is the favorite, but Hononegah will also be a conference title contender this season.
Coach: Kevin Budden
2017 finish: 5th in six-team NIC-10
Returning starters: Maxine Nesemeier (SR), Alexandra Daggert (SR), Sarina Goldie (SR)
Other key players: Nilaya Schulz (FR), Katherine Stevens (SR)
Analysis: Led by all-NIC-10 MVP Maxine Nesemeier, one of three seniors, the Pretzels should climb from from that second-to-last spot. Nesemeier, who was also the individual regional champ last season, finished 23rd overall iat state in Class AA, only nine strokes off the title pace.
Coach: Brad Sweet (14th season)
2017 finish: 6th in six-team NIC-10
Returning starters: Danielle Peterson (SR), Camille Herdklotz (SO)
Key newcomers: Brighton Young (SO), Reese Stovall (FR), Kaitlyn Hardy (FR), Lily Runyard (SO), Kameron Boeke (JR), Kylie Hammons (JR), Daisy Lopez (SR)
Strengths: Team chemistry; A four-year varsity letter winner (Peterson) with some really good young talent.
Weaknesses: Inexperience: we are so young compared to last year.
Analysis: After finishing last in the NIC-10 last season, Coach Sweet is optimistic that the Huskies can move up. Yes, they are young and inexperienced, but young can be good if that group has talent, and Sweet says there is talent in the sophomores and freshmen. Led by Danielle Peterson, look for Harlem to climb out of the NIC-10 basement.
Coach: Michaela Binz. (1st season)
2017 finish: 4th in six-team NIC-10
Returning starters: Rachel Nelson (JR), Coe Walberg (SO), Jaclyn McDonald (SO), Abigail Houk (SO).
Other key players: Karah Hook (FR), Jazlyn Bengtson (FR), Emma Walberg (FR).
Strengths: Experience, with four returning starters; Several girls were active in summer tournaments.
Weaknesses: Despite the experience, Belvidere is still young; Consistency
Analysis: First-year coach Michaela Binz steps into an experienced team, but the experience is very young, as the four starters coming back include one junior and three sophomores. They will have to overcome the loss of graduated first-team all-NIC-10 golfers Morgan McNulty and Sara Redig. Belvidere won’t be able to keep up with the top dogs in the conference, but they have the type of team that should show steady growth as the season progresses.
— By Randy Ruef, Sportsfan 1330