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Seniors lead Rock Falls into first sectional since 2003

Giving it the college try

How’s this for a conundrum? The state golf meet holds immense opportunities. Getting  there and shooting well could mean admission to more schools, or even scholarships.

But in order to unlock said opportunities, Andrew Tichler says he must forget all about that sort of stuff.

"I just want to focus on playing good golf, not how much my luck would change if I win," the Rock Falls senior said. "If I do make it to state, there would be a whole lot more opportunities, like from colleges. But I can’t think about that.”

Forgive Tichler and fellow fourth-year varsity golfer Trace Hippen if they struggle to curb their enthusiasm Monday at Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport. For the first time since 2003, the Rockets broke through the regional barricade.

Tichler made sectionals as a sophomore, but a bit of an unraveling in last year’s regional at Timber Creek in Dixon saw him miss the cut. Aaron Frank – the son of Rock Falls coach Tom Frank – and Logan White got through, but Tichler is excited the whole gang gets to practice in Freeport today and Sunday before taking aim Monday.

"It means a lot, going off of that bad whatever you want to call it last year – blow-up, bad rounds, bad luck," Tichler said.

Tichler led the bunch with a 77 at the LaSalle-Peru Regional on Tuesday, while Frank rode a scorching start to an 81. Hippen is ready to put a 92 behind him, not only for his sake, but for the team's.

"I want to do something special this year, and my main goal is to make it to state as a team," Hippen said.

Enter the Rockets’ secret weapon: Hippen’s big brother, Jarred, who’s played the Freeport course several times. Now an assistant coach for the Rockets, he assured the team that their days putting on super-fast surfaces will continue, but reading them will be easier.

Trace will welcome any sort of relief after putting 48 times Monday.

"Speed-wise, they'll be similar, but Jarred told me they're not going to be as slopy," Hippen said. "The slope and reading the greens was what killed me."

Jarred also warned the Rockets that the bulk of the back nine gets pretty tight.

"He told us basically like holes 12 through 17 are the key holes that you just need to survive on," Trace said.

One other piece of advice from the elder Hippen backfired, somewhat. He suggested his kid brother play in the No. 1 group at regionals, in order to avoid playing with Sterling’s Zach Rehmert.

Trace says whenever he and Rehmert play together, his scores suffer, because they get caught up with joking around.

"If I'm playing good and I'm joking around, things are going to go well," Hippen said. "If I'm not playing well and start joking around, a bad round is going to get even worse."

As for Tichler, keeping things light is key.

"That's exactly what it is," he said. "Just in the past 2 weeks, I'm really getting myself to relax and not press as much."

He says his ability to let go isn’t reserved for the golf course. He laughs when he reflects on the jitters he felt 2 years ago.

“I was a ball of nerves, going crazy, trying to have fun but just shaking all day," Tichler said.

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