Nearly two years ago, Kewanee girls' golf standout Riley Hansen was just three strokes away from being a state champion.
As she prepares for her final season as a Boilermaker, her pursuit of a Class 1A state gold medal takes on an added sense of urgency.
"Right now, I'd be pretty happy just getting there and making the cut, but I definitely would like to win state," said Hansen, a three-time 1A state qualifier. "That's my goal right now. I think I have a good chance of doing it, but there's a lot of good golfers out there, so I need to keep working on everything with my game."
She finished in a five-way tie for eighth place in her first visit to Decatur's Red Tail Run course to become the first state medalist in Kewanee girls' golf history. In 2017 as a sophomore, Hansen flirted with becoming just the third Boilermaker golfer — and first female — ever to bring home a state title, finishing three strokes behind Pontiac's Ali Schrock.
Last fall, she made a third consecutive trip to Red Tail Run in her bid to take the final step toward gold, but the results were far from what she hoped for as she ended up in a three-way tie for 31st place.
"That was disappointing," Hansen said. "It was freezing that weekend, snowing, and I was not hitting any good balls. My hitting was horrible; it was the wrong weekend for that to happen."
Since then, Hansen has re-dedicated herself to strengthening her all-around game. A three-time champion in the Three Rivers Conference and in regional competition, another of her goals for this season is to capture her first individual sectional title.
Having committed to continue her golfing career at Western Illinois University has helped take a lot of pressure off Hansen's shoulders, freeing her to focus squarely on her senior season.
"Knowing what I'm doing for school now, that takes the pressure off," she said. "It's calmed me down a lot. I can relax and enjoy it now, and whatever happens, happens."
In addition to pursuing her individual goals, Hansen will also find herself as part of a team for the first time, with her and junior teammate Natalie Yepson joined by two other players to make up a full Boilermaker squad.
"We're actually going to have a girls' team for the first time in Kewanee history, so that's exciting," she said. "I'm really hoping we can have a good season. Now, I need to set the example for everyone."