Dakota favored to repeat as NUIC golf champs – Sports – Rockford Register Star

Last year was the first season Dakota won a conference golf title.

This was supposed to be the year Dakota reached state for the first time.

Until the IHSA announced there would be no state tourney, just a local regional tourney in October.

“We do plan on awarding regional or sectional champions along with an individual medalist,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said last week. “There would just be no advancement to a further tournament, whether it be the state finals or a sectional.”

But Dakota suddenly looks so good the Indians, first in the NUIC and third in the regional last year, are looking beyond local competition and seeing signs of hope wherever they look.

“We are still hopeful that it can continue,” second-year Dakota coach Kurt Mills said. “There are all kinds of rumors that they could still have some kind of state tournament. We’d definitely be disappointed not to go to that next level where our school has never gone as a team. I am still holding out hope.”

Play began in mid-August this year with players required to wear masks except when taking a shot. All coaches, fans and other players also had to wear masks. Now, players no longer have to wear masks as long as they’re social distancing.

“It sounds like it is loosening up just a bit, which is good news,” Mills said. “That’s a glimmer of hope that things may loosen up more to the point where we have some kind of state competition. For Dakota, that means everything, because we have never had a team go. And we are shooting scores that would be competitive to making the state championship.”

Last year, Port Byron Riverdale won the Aquin sectional with a 336 at Park Hills West and Fulton was the third team to advance to state with a 341. Dakota finished 11th at 387. But Dakota has shot several nine-hole scores in the 160s this year in getting off to a 6-0 conference start, which would translate into the 330s for 18 holes.

Ian Peterson and Ethan Rood finished 1-2 in the NUIC last year to lead Dakota to the conference title, yet neither one is guaranteed to lead the Indians this year. Nick Panoske, a third senior, has bested both a time or two this year. Rood is the hot one right now, shooting 35 and 36 in his last two matches, but all three are strong contenders for the NUIC individual title. After that, Dakota has four or five players who play around bogey golf to contribute Dakota’s fourth team score.

“All three are in serious competition with each other, as well as working well as teammates,” Mills said of seniors Rood, Peterson and Panoske. “Any one of the three can best the other ones in any given competition.

“All of them have picked their game up from last year. And our 4-5-6 players, and really our 7-8 players, are all in competition to boost the team up with that fourth number. That fourth number is a big number when it comes to a team score. Everybody has brought their game up.

“It’s awesome to see how hard the kids have worked on their own. The only downfall is this virus and the restrictions from it. But we are still optimistic and we are playing, which is great. We are looking for things to loosen up and go all the way to the state championship. Our only option is to remain optimistic.”

Matt Trowbridge: mtrowbridge@rrstar.com; @matttrowbridge

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