By the time Lexi Harkins was a sophomore, Crystal Lake Central co-op golf coach Kathy Speaker knew that she would have to take on a different role than coach for the young star.
“It was clear pretty early on that her game was way beyond me,” Speaker said. “I just kind of stayed out of her way at the end and offered more in the way of support and encouragement.”
From that, the two built a relationship more similar to that of friends than player-coach. During that sophomore season, Harkins was the only Tigers qualifier for the state tournament and, without teammates for moral support to keep her calm in an intense environment, Speaker took on that role.
“She had me tell her a joke after every hole,” the eight-year coach said. “She knew how to play the holes and knew what to do. I was basically there for emotional support.
“My job that weekend was to keep Lexi smiling and keep her mind off the pressures.”
To the casual observer, it might seem Harkins is immune to pressure in big moment as opposing players and teammates watched her consistently hit big shots throughout her impressive career, but she attributes her play to simply wanting to have fun and wanting to play her best at all times.
Harkins was at her best this season. She led the Tigers to an undefeated season while earning individual titles in the McHenry County and Fox Valley Conference meets and in the Class AA Prairie Ridge Regional. The senior concluded her high school career by finishing 10th in the state tournament while leading the Tigers to fifth overall as a team.
For her accomplishments, Harkins is the Northwest Herald Girls Golfer of the Year in a unanimous selection by the the sports staff and area coaches.
Add her senior season to her already impressive résumé that includes a pair of top five finishes in the Class AA state tournament – fourth and third, respectively – during her freshman and sophomore seasons and you have one of the most dominant golf careers in the area.
She didn’t play high school golf during her junior season, instead opting to play in amateur tournaments across the country to help gain collegiate exposure. One highlight included making it to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship during her would-be junior season. Her play at those events helped her garner an offer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she will play next season.
“It was just a lot of fun getting back to the team atmosphere,” Harkins said of returning for her senior season. “I just wanted to have fun. There was a weight lifted I think when I signed, and this season was all about the team.”
Added teammate Larisa Luloff: “She is always in a zone out there and, as a teammate, you want to match it.”
When thinking ahead to next season without Harkins playing for the Tigers, Speaker thought about how Harkins changed golf in the area for the better. After Harkins’ freshman season ended, she took only two weeks off before heading out to the range to hit balls and prepare for next season.
“People were looking at her like she was crazy,” Speaker said. “A lot of people in the area didn’t approach the game of golf with a year-round drive ... until Lexi.”
What did Harkins do for the program?
“I always say she was my lightning strike,” Speaker said. “Every coach hopes for one in their career, for that one special person to walk through their program.
“For me, that was Lexi. I am very lucky to have had that lightning strike.”
Northwest Herald Girls Golf All-Area
Lexi Harkins, Crystal Lake Central co-op, sr. Harkins earned medalist honors in each dual meet while winning county, the Fox Valley Conference tournament and regionals. The senior ended her high school career with a 10th-place finish at Class AA state.
Larisa Luloff, Crystal Lake Central co-op, jr. She finished second at the county meet, second at FVC meet and was second at regionals after losing to Harkins in playoff. Luloff also finished 49th at state.
Blake Betke, Richmond-Burton, jr. Betke led the Rockets to an undefeated regular season as well as a ninth-place finish at Class A state. She had the top score at the Big Northern Conference tournament, placed 10th at county meet, was third at regionals, second at sectionals and 33rd at state.
Emily Jean, Crystal Lake Central co-op, jr. Jean solidified a deep Tigers team. She was fifth at the county meet, fourth at the FVC meet and was tied for sixth at regionals. She finished 44th at state.
Second Team Sophia Archos, Marian Central, fr. MacKenzie Hahn, Richmond-Burton, fr. Bailey Bostler, Crystal Lake Central co-op, sr. Brianna DiGrazia, Crystal Lake Central co-op, sr.
Honorable mention Brooke Johnson, Prairie Ridge, sr. Gillian Young, Huntley, jr. Kailey Lindholm, McHenry, fr. Alex Siavelis, Crystal Lake Central, sr. Kat Cummings, Richmond-Burton, jr. Jenny Wojcik, Richmond-Burton, jr. Zoe Dowell, Huntley, sr.