SHELDON — Watseka senior Natalie Schroeder has accomplished a lot in her Warriors career, and she seems to be saving the best for last when it comes to the links.
Schroeder was the medalist by an extremely wide margin at Wednesday’s IHSA Class 1A Watseka Regional at Shewami Country Club. Her career-best round of 77 was a full eight strokes ahead of the next best competitor, St. Thomas More senior Mia Kirby.
The key for Schroeder was a red-hot start that gave her an early advantage over both her group and the rest of the field. Though she teed off in the final group with two very strong golfers in their own right — Iroquois West sophomore Adelynn Scharp and St. Thomas More junior Brooke Erhard — Schroeder put herself well ahead early on and managed to keep her impressive pace during the 18-hole regional round.
“I think I started off pretty good, and that gave me confidence going into the rest of the round,” Schroeder said of her hot start. “My chips were really strong, and I did a good job of putting them close enough to one-putt if my second hit wasn’t as good.”
The Warriors’ senior has been a reliable presence on the team for years and her ability is well-established, but the key for her regional title-winning round might have as much to do with her experience as it does with her skill.
Schroeder did an excellent job of keeping the pace she set in the early going and kept her head well enough to turn in a superb scorecard at the end of 18 holes.
“I just try and think about other things and talk to the other girls so I’m not dwelling on where my score is at. Don’t think about it and try to do my own thing out there,” she said. “At the beginning of [quarantine] and into the summer, all you could do is come out and shoot on your own. But it’s really nice to be able to come out and play with other girls.”
Her stellar round will advance her as an individual to the final round of this year’s virus-shortened postseason along with Scharp (89) and her Raiders teammate McKinley Tilstra (97), as well as Armstrong-Potomac’s Anna Duden.
Though they were in the same group, Scharp’s outing started rather differently from Schroeder’s, as a slow start hampered her early holes. She was able to turn things around and put together a strong back nine, however, to finish with the fifth-best individual score and punch her own ticket to the sectional round.
“I think I started off pretty badly, but I came back on the back nine, so I think I did pretty well overall,” Scharp said. “I was always told just to forget about the last hole and focus on the next shot, so that’s usually what’s going through my mind in those situations — just try to let it go.
“My longer game and my drives were much better in the second half, so that’s what helped me come back.”
No local team qualified for the next and final round of competition. St Thomas More won the team title in commanding fashion with a team score of 368, and Mohamet-Seymour snagged the second spot with a team score of 397, a seven stroke advantage against Watseka’s third-place 404.
Iroquois West took fourth place led by Scharp and Tilstra to a 431. Milford took fifth place with a team score of 475. LeRoy was just behind the Bearcats with a 477. Blue Ridge took seventh with a 480, and Central rounded out the team competition with an eighth-place 522.
Golfers from Cissna Park, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, Judah Christian, St. Joe-Ogden, Hoopeston, Fisher and Salt Fork also participated in the regional as individuals. None of those individuals shot well enough to qualify for the sectional round.