Jason Hill isn't above motivating his male golfers by pointing out that they're being outworked by a bunch of girls.
"I do it all the time," he said Wednesday. Then he burst out laughing. He had a glaring reason to be in a laugh-out-loud kind of mood.
In this, his eighth year coaching Eastland-Milledgeville golf, Hill directed the Cougars' first postseason-eligible girls squad to a runner-up showing Wednesday at the Class A Rock Falls Regional.
The meet lasted about 7 hours, undoubtedly grueling for five young ladies whose mettle hadn't yet been tested by 18 holes of postseason, right?
Not even close. Four of those five cut their teeth last postseason, during which Alex Moutrey and Kori Freidag qualified for sectionals. Izy Todd and Samantha Feltenz missed the cut by eight and 11 strokes, respectively.
But with the arrival of freshman phenom Karissa Freidag, 2012 marked the first season Hill’s squad was ready to be postseason-eligible as a team.
That meant competing in at least six meets during the regular season. The Cougars played nine, thanks to scheduling more meets than necessary, in case of rain that simply never came.
The upstart fivesome's latest event, the Class A Rock Falls Regional at Rock River Golf and Pool, was a coming-out party. The Cougars' 391 strokes were just six more than Prophetstown. So, whereas the boys’ outstanding golfers Casey Fritz and Devin Hartman are sectional-bound, the Cougars are going as a pack.
“Those boys put in so much time and effort,” Hill said, “and you try to explain to them that this is what hard work will get you.”
On Tuesday in Rock Falls, Karissa Freidag was edged by Prophetstown’s Molly Corbin for medalist honors in a one-hole playoff after both carded 89s.
Watching the playoff was surreal, albeit foreseeable, for her big sister.
“That was awesome, and I’m very proud of her,” said Kori, a junior at Eastland who shot 97 on an "off" day. “I’ve known for a long time that she’d go far. She’s a great player to begin with, and she’s practiced really hard.”
“Nobody works harder than Kori and Karissa,” Hill said.
But talent and work ethic were secondary to something Jon and Bonnie Freidag instilled in their children on the links.
"The number one thing was that [Karissa] enjoyed it," Hill said. "Talent is one thing, but you don't ever know how much they're going to take to the game. There’s a lot of little kids who hit the ball well, but it's about whether or not they enjoy it.”
The Freidags and Moutreys live near Lake Carroll Golf Course in Lanark, where Hill served as the PGA golf pro a few years before accepting an offer to take the reins as high school coach. Before doing so, he’d already been pitching in on the coaching staff during his spare time.
It took a couple of years, but girls starting coming out. The rewards of coaching preps were immediate, and they’re getting better all the time.
“Look at days like today – seeing kids grow up, and seeing them play golf down the road and learn integrity from this game,” Hill said. “That’s what I love to see.”
He also doesn’t mind being a sort of ambassador for girls golf in an area he considers chock full of potential.
"I think that's something that's missing out in this area – girls golf," Hill said. "It's a huge area for girls; there’s so much opportunity. We have a huge chance to not only help girls learn and love the game, but also to get into colleges."
Back to the Cougars’ current run, he relishes watching Moutrey put to use pointers that needed time and patience to sink in. He loves watching Todd, who once sprayed the ball all over the course, consistently hit the ball straight.
"God, Izy, can now hit the ball where she wants to," Hill said.
Then there’s Karissa Freidag, who has a delightful struggle with the game to which all of us can relate.
"I was really proud of myself," she said after 19 holes Tuesday afternoon. "But then I thought maybe I could do better. Some of the shots just didn't fall, so I’m excited to get back out there."