Hey Illini Fans!
We've just returned from the Illinois Challenge and are catching up on classwork. The Illinois Challenge is a Ryder Cup-style match play event between Illinois State and our team. We played in Venice, Florida, at the Venice Golf and Country Club, and the members did a phenomenal job showing their support and cheering us on!
The Illinois Challenge is a unique event because every team member travels and competes, so it's always a blast. Since we wear our orange and blue gear to the airport, it's also fun to hear people guessing what team we represent. Tennis is a popular guess, but we also got basketball despite the fact that we are all under six feet tall. A month before traveling, we split into teams of two, and the teams started to compete in daily challenges to prepare for match play. I was paired with Ember for the second year in a row, and we got to work warming up for Venice.
We got competitive playing Flappy Bird and Heads Up! in the airport to pass the time. Due to airport delays, we landed in Fort Myers around 11pm on Friday and still had an hour drive to our host families' houses. Each team of two stayed with a different host family at the club. Ember and I stayed with the Monk family and their adorable dog Charlie. The next morning, Crystal's grandparents invited us over to their house for a delicious brunch before our practice round. They had everything: coffee cake, donuts, fruit, danishes, and epic egg casserole. The first few warm-up swings on the range were a little tough since we ate so much. After the practice round and a post-round practice session, both teams had dinner at the club. We had an incredible meal (plus dessert) thanks to Chef Christmas. I'll just claim I was carbohydrate-loading for 36 holes we would play the following day.
The following day, we got up early to warm-up and start our four-ball matches. Ember was a great teammate; if I hit a poor shot, she always followed it up with a good one. Being able to play side-by-side with a teammate is a great experience. Ember's composure helped me stay calm, and she was a great motivator. After a quick lunch, we teed off for our afternoon singles matches, and I was on my own. After finishing our matches, we got to see some of our teammates finish their own. After everyone was done, we did a handshake line with Illinois State, and I was suddenly transported back to my AYSO soccer league. We had a great time playing with ISU and look forward to playing with them every year!
I could go on and on about funny stories, but this would turn into a novel. The Illinois Challenge is a great event that helps us get ready for the spring season. We owe a big "thank-you" to our host families and Venice Country Club members who permitted us to play their course and came out to support us. We are now beginning preparations for our first tournament in Arizona at the end of February. Stay tuned for more updates!