GENESEO - La Salle-Peru junior Nicole Washelesky remembered how it felt last year to finish just four strokes short of the IHSA state girls golf tournament.
Wednesday, she took her first step toward making sure that close call a year ago is ancient history.
Washelesky shot a strong 86 at Maple Bluff Golf Course at the Class 2A Geneseo Regional to earn a spot as one of the eight individual qualifiers in the Class 2A Rockford Guilford Sectional next Monday.
Washelesky shot a 42 on her first nine, and she carded a 44 on the back.
"Last year, missing it by four strokes, I now know what I have to aim for to shoot so I can make it to state," Washelesky said. "The competition is going to be a little harder because you have to score lower, but I have my past from the sectionals last year. I know what it's going to be like and I don't have to over-pressure myself or anything. If I just stay how I am, cut a few strokes off, I should be good."
She wasn't too bad Wednesday in Geneseo, and Washelesky's putting was the key to her advancing round.
The Lady Cavalier golfer only had two three-putts in her round, and she dropped several long putts to save par in her round.
She also had nine one-putts. The sharp short game came from a practice round with her dad this past Sunday, when one putt in particular gave her confidence.
"I was just trying to get a feel for the greens because they are really fast," Washelesky said. "I was just trying to line up my putt, and I knew it would take more break if I could hit it softer. I knew I could make them. I went up there, hit it and it went in. I got extremely happy, and I just knew I could keep doing it."
The only big number Washelesky really encountered came on her final hole, where she made a seven after experiencing some tree problems.
Aside from that, fairways and greens.
"The round that she posted (Wednesday) was very well played," La Salle-Peru head coach Randy Gunia said. "Nicole adjusted a little bit after struggling on the first few holes. Pretty much all around, it was down the fairways, close to the greens and between one and two putts, for the most part."
Advancing with Washelesky to the Rockford Guilford Sectional is Streator junior Liz Liptak, who eagled hole No. 1 en route to shooting an 88.
One golfer who was supposed to be playing in Geneseo on Wednesday was Ottawa junior Ali Stevenson.
Stevenson was not permitted to compete in the regional because of Ottawa's teachers' strike. She called Washelesky on Tuesday night to let her know the bad news.
"She and I are pretty close friends," Washelesky said of Stevenson. "We've been talking to each other lately, and (Tuesday) night she called me. She told me she wasn't able to come and she sounded very disappointed. I was disappointed as well because it's really fun to play with her."
Sterling senior Ember Schuldt earned medalist honors with an even-par 72.
Galesburg, Peoria Notre Dame and Moline were the advancing teams with 352, 361 and 378 team strokes, respectively.
L-P freshman Kylie Moreno shot a 134 and did not advance.
Ottawa Marquette sophomore Bailey Weber didn't have to travel too far to qualify for sectionals a year ago, going to the St. Bede Regional at Spring Creek Golf Course in Spring Valley.
This year, Weber had to go to the Dwight Country Club.
The extra mileage didn't seem to matter as she fired a 106 to advance out of the Class 1A Dwight Regional and earn a spot at the Champaign St. Thomas More Sectional at Stone Creek Golf Club in Urbana next Monday.
Weber shot a 53 on both the front and back nines for her 106.
Medalist honors went to Bloomington Central Catholic's Elizabeth Swanlund, who finished with an 81. BCC won the team title with a 379, while Tri-Valley (420 strokes) and LeRoy (421) advanced to sectionals as a team.
At El Paso
Fieldcrest junior Makenzie Gensler managed to maneuver her way out of the Class 1A El Paso Regional on Wednesday at El Paso Golf Course.
Gensler shot a 109 to advance as one of eight individual qualifers to make it to the Rockridge Sectional at Highland Spring Golf Course in Milan.
Fieldcrest shot 586 as a team to place seventh.
Jim Cogdal can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 139, or at email@example.com.