Stevenson’s Miller stands aloneLake Bluff 10/5/11 Zion Benton's Morgan Kukla during the IHSA girls golf regional at Lake Bluff Golf Course. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 5, 2011 8:51PM
The form sheet said Stevenson’s Stephanie Miller easily would win the individual title and that Highland Park would dominate the team competition on Wednesday at the IHSA regional girls golf tournament at Lake Bluff Golf Course.
The sheet was not wrong.
But what it didn’t tell was the story of one of the most emotional finishes to any high-school golf tournament at this level you’re ever going to see.
It is the story of Stevenson sophomore Nikki Marquardt.
While Miller — the defending state champion — is the best golfer in the state, Marquardt would be considered the No. 1 golfer on many squads throughout the state.
She probably expected to shoot 80-82 on Wednesday and lead the Patriots to a top-three team finish, which would qualify them for next Monday’s sectional.
Which explains why she cried long and cried hard after turning in a scorecard with a big 93 — a tally that virtually eliminated her team from qualifying for the sectional, effectively ending the season for every Patriot but Miller.
But wait a minute! Miller was still on the course and literally burning it up.
With all other scores in, it was calculated that Miller needed an amazing 5-under 67 to forge a team tie for third place between Stevenson and Libertyville — a tie the Patriots would win because of having a better fifth-score.
And then there was Miller knocking down a 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole that gave her — unbelievably — the 67 that the team needed to advance and allow Marquardt, Katie Pepping, Molly Cizek, Mary Beth Pooielewski and Anna Kaszuba to live to play another day.
It was — for the sport of high-school golf — one of those “Do you believe in miracles ... YES!” moments.
The 67 matched Miller’s best round of the season and, no, she had no clue when playing 18 that the par would pull her teammates through.
“The last two years, I’ve gone to the sectional with the team. This year, we’ve struggled a little bit,” Miller said before being told that her 67 had saved the team’s day. “If we can get through, then maybe we’ll catch lightning in a bottle. I haven’t gone downstate with the team before, and everybody tells me that’s the most fun you can have.”
Also having fun on Wednesday was Zion-Benton sophomore Morgan Kukla, who fired an 81 and qualified for sectional as one of the top 10 finishers not on a qualifying team (champion Highland Park, 310; Buffalo Grove, 336; Stevenson, 351).
Of course, Kukla doesn’t even have a team, as Zion-Benton does not field a squad in the sport.
It did have two players in the field Wednesday — Kukla and Carley Hebert, who couldn’t break 100 but has played much better this fall.
Both girls practice with Zion’s boys team. Kukla competes in matches with the varsity boys and Hebert competes in matches with the JV boys. They play off of the men’s tees during matches.
Kukla’s career-best competitive round is 79. Her home course is challenging Pine Meadow in Mundelein, and John Reese of Pine Meadow is her coach.
“My brother and my dad play golf, and I always just went with them and started to get pretty good at it,” Kukla said.
Her brother, Josh, was a three-year varsity player sat Z-B and now attends Augustana College.
Zion’s boys coach, Spence Voss, coached the girls on Wednesday.
“Morgan’s dream has been to play at Illinois, going back to when I met her when I had her brother sophomore year.,” Voss said. “So ever since Day 1, she’s been working toward that.
“She has all the physical tools. Right now, it’s just about developing that short memory that a golfer needs. If you make a bad swing, forget about it. If she works on that mental game as much as she does her physical game, she has everything else.”
Everything, of course, except a squad full of teammates.
Perhaps some day, that will change.