PREP GOLF: Salt Fork's Amelia Birge sets conference record

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Sep. 23—DANVILLE — Salt Fork junior Amelia Birge basically spent her entire summer at the Harrison Park Golf Course.

"I love golf and it's been a really good outlet for all of my stress," said Birge, whose summer job was working at the course. "The golf course is a nice place to go and it's something that I have enjoyed since I started."

All of that time that she spent working and practicing — maybe not in that exact order — came in very handy during the Vermilion Valley Conference Tournament on Thursday.

Birge shot a conference-record 7-over 79 to claim the girls title by 15 shots over Adelynn Scharp of Iroquois West. It's the second straight conference championship for Birge, who won with a 96 last year. The previous best score for the girls individual winner was an 85 by former Salt Fork golfer Courtney Lafoe in 2013.

"My previous best competition score over 18 holes was a 90 earlier this season at Urbana," Birge said. "My best 18 holes ever was an 84.

"This is my home course and it feels like all of my hard work had paid off. I worked very hard throughout the summer for this, and focusing everything around my game is really paying off."

But admittedly, Birge came into the conference meet 'in a slump."

"I didn't have my best pre-meet round on Tuesday," she said. "So on Wednesday, I practiced because I had to get back into my groove.

"If I was going to do this, I had to be confident. I went into today, thinking 'whatever happens, happens.' I knew I couldn't control anything except for myself."

So, at what point on Thursday did Birge realize she was going to have a career-best round?

"Whenever I finished," she said. "I was really, really nervous at the start. I teed off on the first hole and I didn't have my best tee shot, but after the first hole I just got into my groove and I never really got out of it. Everything just felt good today.

"I knew I had the capability to shoot in the low 80s, but I didn't think I was breaking 80. So, when I added it up at the end, I was kind of freaking out, because I was like there is no way that I just shot a 79. But I added it up again and it was a 79. That is crazy to me."

Not only was Thursday's round 17 shots better than her winning score last year, it was 43 strokes better than her score as a freshman (122) in the conference tournament.

Schlarman Academy's Cheyenne Lutz was the only other Vermilion County girl to make the all-conference team as she tied for fourth with a 104.

In the unofficial team standings — the VVC doesn't award a team title in girls golf — Watseka was first for the second year in a row with a 459. Hoopeston Area was second with a 512.

Birge was the only player on Thursday to see dramatic change in their score from last year.

Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin senior Leighton Meeker finished 12th in last year's VVC Tournament with a score of 98. He was three strokes away from being all-conference.

"That was my biggest goal coming into this year," said Meeker.

Not only did he accomplish his goal, Meeker earned himself a conference title as his 8-over 80 was 1 shot better than Watseka's Austin Marcier (81) and 3 strokes better than Oakwood's Case Kopacz (83).

"I didn't come in thinking I was going to win," said Meeker. "My goal was just to get all-conference."

Not bad for a player that only started playing golf in 2020 because of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

"I was a soccer player my freshman year (2019) but because of Covid, golf was still being in the fall of that year, so I just decided to go out and try it," said Meeker. "I fell in love with the game and this is my third year."

And while he was a member of the Bis-Henn/Ross-Al team in 2020, he didn't play in the conference tournament that year.

So, when things returned to normal last fall, Meeker had to choose between golf and soccer.

"I picked golf because I had played it all summer long. And overall, I was better at golf than I was at soccer," admitted Meeker, who came into Thursday wanting to shoot 42 on the front nine and 42 on the back nine for an 18-hole total of 84. "I'm very happy that I was able to beat my goal with 40 on the front and 40 on the back."

Was there one area of his game that was really good on Thursday?

"I had a few pretty long putts to save par," he said. "I was able to clutch those up and it really helped my score."

Joining Meeker and Kopacz on the all-conference team was Duece Provost (84) from Schlarman Academy, Wyatt Eisenmann (85) from Hoopeston Area and Adam Duncan (89) from Schlarman Academy.

For the second year in a row, Watseka (353) claimed the team title with Iroquois West (358) finishing second and Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin (365) rounded out the top three.