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Mattoon's Kira Wolf during last year's IHSA Class AA Girls State Golf Tournament at Hickory Point Golf Course. The IHSA voted to make cuts after the first round of the tournament starting this season.

BLOOMINGTON — Normal University High's boys golf team wrote a storybook ending to its record seventh straight state championship in 2009.

The Pioneers roared from ninth place after the first round to gain a share of the Class 2A title the next day. There were looks of disbelief from everyone wearing green and gold at Weibring Golf Club at Illinois State.

"That’s unbelievable to come from 14 shots back to tie for first. It’s incredible," said junior Logan Stauffer, who became U-High's first state medalist.

That won't be happening for U-High — or any other school — nine years later.

The Illinois High School Association Board of Directors approved a recommendation in June to have a cut after the first day at the boys and girls state tournaments. The recommendation to the board came from the seven-member golf advisory committee.

The state tournament fields will be reduced from 12 to the top eight teams (and ties), along with the top 24 individuals (and ties) not on the top eight teams, for the final day.

The three boys state tourneys are played in Bloomington-Normal — Class 1A at Prairie Vista, Class 2A at Weibring and Class 3A at The Den at Fox Creek. The girls compete in Decatur with Class 1A at Red Tail Run and Class 2A at Hickory Point.

Effectively, one-third of the 112 participants at each venue will be done early.

IHSA associate executive director Kurt Gibson is the administrator in charge of boys golf, while assistant executive director Stacey Lambert handles girls golf.

Boys golf went to three classes in 2007, a year after the girls expanded to two classes. Gibson said he and Lambert have monitored those results in the past 11-12 years.

"We began to notice a trend that there is a growing discrepancy in scores being shot by the best teams, and the same with the individuals, and those on the other end of the spectrum," said Gibson.

Gibson said they presented those findings to the golf advisory committee, which is made up of five coaches (three girls, two boys), an athletic director and a principal, at its Dec. 7 meeting at the IHSA office in Bloomington. 

The advisory committee asked Gibson and Lambert to gather more information — and how a reduced field might look — for its May 1 meeting.

"They were supportive of that idea (to reduce the field by a third) and made that recommendation to our board," said Gibson.

Between December and May, Gibson said a survey was sent to coaches asking  their opinions on a variety of subjects, including one to reduce the state tourney field after the first day.

According to Gibson, a small majority of those responding to the survey "favored not making a reduction in the field."

"When the committee saw there was not overwhelming support that we keep all 112 players (at each site) and looked at the growing trends we were able to present, it made sense in their view to make this recommendation and this modest reduction by one-third to the board and the board approved it," said Gibson.

The Effingham St. Anthony boys golf team has been to state 15 times under coach Phil Zaccari, including state championships in 2001, 2002 and 2009. He said though he didn't know the exact motivation for the change, he understood it.

"There's a huge gap from the top echelon of teams to the lower ones," Zaccari said. "And there's also the weather issue — with fewer golfers on Saturday, it's easier to get it in with fewer golfers."

But there were also coaches not pleased with the change.

"We talk about the student-athlete experience," said U-High coach Darrin York, who led the Pioneers to the 2016 Class 2A boys state title. "They've earned the right to play both days and have that experience they'll take with them the rest of their life."

Normal coach Mike Aslinger has taken his teams to two Class 2A girls state tournaments. Both times the Iron finished outside the top eight after the first day.

"What good does it do to send a bunch of kids home who made it to state? It puts a very bitter taste (in your mouth) and doesn't make sense," said Aslinger. "From everyone I've talked to in the golf industry and coaches, it doesn't make sense to anyone."

Last year perennial power New Trier would not have made the second day in the Class 3A boys tourney despite being only 11 strokes behind second place (the Trevians moved from ninth to sixth on the second day). And at the Class 2A girls tourney, those not on qualifying teams who shot 80 also would have been cut.

Besides U-High in 2009, the only other boys team during the three-class format to come from outside the top eight after the first round and secure a trophy was Nashville, which improved from 10th to third in Class 1A in 2013.

No girls teams have done so in the last 12 years.

Gibson pointed out in other sports, such as track and swimming, there is a cut and not every state participant makes it to the final day.

"In golf the rules are a little different than those sports in that it's not a preliminary so you don't reset the clock for day two. It's a two-day total," said York. "I could be the last qualifier in a swim meet in an event on day one because I had a bad day, but on day two they reset the clock and I could be the best (and state champion)."

Aslinger doesn't buy the argument from the minutes of the May 1 golf advisory committee meeting that a reduced field would "create a better experience for participants and still allow ... all qualifiers one day of play at the state finals."

In fact, Aslinger said it will create a "logistical nightmare" for coaches, players and parents who don't qualify for the second day.

"It doesn't help the golf courses and it doesn't help the cities that are hosting," he said. "If what they're talking about, true pace of play, I would like to see the pace of play on the second day compared to the first day. I don't think it will help it that much."

Aslinger said golfers who haven't been at state before are understandably nervous on day one before settling down for the second day. York believes those who don't play well the first day deserve a chance to redeem themselves on day two.

But it can mean even more than that.

"The year (2015) before we won state we finished 10th," said York. "But over those two days we learned a lot about ourselves that helped us be who we were the next year when we won."

Zaccari said even teams that get cut after one day can take something from playing at state.

"I don't really have a preference either way, but I don't think it takes away from the experience — everyone still gets their state experience," Zaccari said. "It's state — you have to play well to make the cut. You have to bring your 'A' game."

Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_Benson

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Reporter

Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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