Peoria Notre Dame rallies to capture school’s first golf state championship
In their quest for the school’s first golf state championship, the Peoria Notre Dame boys team faced a seemingly impossible uphill climb Saturday at the Weibring Golf Club at Illinois State University in Normal.
But a combination of resilience, talent and inspiration transformed a seven stroke deficit with just three holes to play into a seven-stroke victory in the Illinois High School Association Class 2A state tournament.
“It was amazing because our kids obviously seized the moment,” first-year coach Ryan Julius told a cheering student body at a post-championship rally in the school gym on Monday. Turning to the team, seated in folding chairs in the middle of the gym floor, he added: “You guys are winners and I couldn’t be more proud of you.”
But did the Irish have extra help? You decide.
As Julius explained it, he was watching and coaching on the 17th hole when two members of the Sisters of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary — Sister Sara Kowal, principal, and Sister Lucia Sol, languages teacher — came walking toward the tee box. Their presence “brought a calming sensation to myself and our team,” he said.
And then things began to happen. Ben Dotson ripped a 7-iron and holed a birdie putt on the par 3, 17th hole “and that started the whole momentum for us,” said Julius.
The Irish foursome of Dotson, Zach Buscher, Mikey Wales, and Sam Newton would finish those final three holes a combined two under par. Meanwhile, the two teams ahead of them — Quincy Notre Dame and Rockford Boylan — each had disastrous finishes.
Wales recorded Peoria Notre Dame’s best round of the day, a one over par 72, and finished sixth overall with a two-day score of 145.
“Gentlemen, you are an inspiration to me,” Father Corey Krengiel, school chaplain, told the team at Monday’s celebration. Father Krengiel was also present for those final holes, along with a cheering section including members of the school’s football and soccer teams.
“What you guys did shows us what can happen when you put forth consistent effort at achieving a goal,” said Father Krengiel.
Team members entered the gym on Monday through a tunnel of pom-pom waving dance team members and cheerleaders. The band struck up the Notre Dame fight song. Several players spoke, thanking their parents, Coach Julius, and all who supported them.
Julius noted that, throughout the year, the Irish used golf balls that bore the initials “RS” in memory of Randy Simmons, Notre Dame’s former principal who died in February.
“This championship is dedicated to him and his family,” said Julius. “Don’t think for a second he didn’t have something to do with how the ball was rolling.”
Dotson admitted to shedding tears after the win.
“I’m not going to lie. I cried a lot after we won,” said the senior. “I put in all the work and it really paid off. This one’s for Randy and for our whole school.”
Sister Sara was wearing the state championship medal over her habit.
“They generously gave me a medal which I didn’t do anything to deserve,” she told the students. “But I’m very proud to wear it, and I’m very proud of our boys team.”
OTHER SCHOOLS PLACE AT STATE
In Class 1A boys golf competition, Alleman High School of Rock Island placed sixth in the state and was paced by Luke Lofgren, whose two-day score of 149 earned him seventh-place individually.
In Class 1A girls golf competition, Central Catholic High School of Bloomington finished fourth in the state, closely followed by The High School of Saint Thomas More in fifth. Alaina Bowie of The High School of Saint Thomas More was in a three-way tie for third with her two-day score of 147, while Katie Steinman of Central Catholic finished in a three-way tie for eighth.