Bar continues rising for Oakton men’s golf team
(Aug. 24, 2018) Oakton Community College men’s golfers have qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II Men’s Golf Championship three of the last four years, and the bar continues to rise for the Owls men’s golf team.
“Expectations are high,” men’s golf coach Louis Waker, entering his 11th season, says. “It’s at the point that elite golfers are looking to come to Oakton because of the tradition of success. The school sells itself.”
This season, the Owls have five determined golfers on the squad. Returning players include Max Henley (Maine South High School), Patrick Scanlon (Glenbrook North High School) and Jack Haberekorn (Loyola Academy).
Newcomers include Nezula Mathia (Schaumburg High School) and Chris Leftakes (Glenbrook South High School).
“These young men will keep the momentum going forward,” Walker says. “As a group, I’m also expecting them to win the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference (ISCC). It’s been 25 years since Oakton won the ISCC and that’s way too long of a drought. That is going to be a main focus for us.”
Henley will serve as Owls captain in 2018.
“He’s the glue of the group,” Walker says. “Also, Max is level-headed and a leader. He’s the type of player you want at that position.”
Not only is Walker excited about his talented golfers, he has some help in the shape of a former player.
Justin Mustari (Maine West High School), who competed with the Owls for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, returns as an assistant coach. After Oakton, Mustari went on to play for Aurora University, where he served as captain, won the Elmhurst Invational and was named to the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference All-Sportsmanship Team. Also, he is a two-time qualifier for the PGA Illinois Open.
“Justin is one of us, having played here at Oakton,” Walker says. “There’s a sense of pride when a player returns where he started and wants to pass on his experience to the next golfer.”
The Owls start the season Friday, Aug. 24 at the Highland 36 Golf Tournament at the Parks Hill Golf Course in Freeport, sponsored by Highland Community College.
Niles resident Bukielski to represent Oakton golf at nationals
(May 11, 2018) Oakton Community College golfer Stephen Bukielski (Niles, Schaumburg High School) is two-for-two when it comes to qualifying for one of the biggest stages for college golf. Bukielski will be competing at the 2018 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II Men’s Golf Championship, May 21-24, at the Glenlakes Golf Club in Foley, Alabama. Last year at nationals, he placed 77th out of 143 golfers in Mesa, Arizona.
“Competing at nationals last year was jittery for me,” Bukielski says. “Now that I’ve already competed at such a high level, I’ll be less stressed and able to take my game up a notch.”
Bukielski will be contending against more than 100 junior college golfers from around the nation at the par-72 6,912-yard golf course that features strategic mounding, extensive bunkering and rippling fairways and greens.
“Consistent is the best way to describe Steve’s golf game,” Louis Walker, Oakton men’s golf coach says. “He may not hit it the farthest off the tee, but he gets on the fairway constantly. Steve is mentally and physically prepared. Competing in a tournament like this is huge pressure, but he’s already been to nationals before, which gives him a huge advantage over many of the other competitors.”
However, Walker says the tournament poses certain challenges: “Any course can be tough if you haven’t played on it before. Golf is unlike any other sport because you compete against yourself and there’s no footage to watch like there is in basketball or football.”
To get ready for the four-day tournament, Bukielski and the other competitors will have two practice rounds to familiarize themselves with the course.
“Glenlakes Golf Club is one of the premier golf courses in the nation,” Walker says. “The air quality there is great, being so close to the Gulf of Mexico. The balls should be able to travel farther than when the tournament was held in humid Arizona last year.”
Since the golf season ended last fall, Bukielski has been playing as much as possible and is confident about his chances.
“For the last few months I’ve been perfecting my swing and especially working on my putting,” he says. “I’m a level-headed person, and I don’t get down when I make a mistake. I’m excited about having another opportunity at nationals and hoping to improve on last year’s performance by medaling.”
Oakton Owls golfer qualifies for national championship
(Oct. 16, 2017) For the second straight year, Oakton Community College sophomore golfer Stephen Bukielski (Niles, Schaumburg High School) has qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II Men’s Golf Championship, May 21-24, 2018, Glenlakes Golf Club, Foley, Alabama.
Bukielski qualified for nationals by his performance at the NJCAA Region IV Tournament, held Oct. 5-7, at Senica’s Oak Ridge Golf Club in La Salle. During the rainy and windy conditions, Bukielski gutted out a 77 average to finish seventh overall. The top five golfers from teams finishing as high as third place are allowed to participate in nationals as individuals.
Weather played havoc on the regional tournament, as the 50 golfers from 11 area colleges were forced to play 54 holes in two days, instead of the scheduled three.
“The conditions were extremely challenging,” says Bukielski. “I knew I just had to play as well as possible and plug through the elements. I’ve played in bad weather before, and one time in high school I played a tournament in snow.”
“Gritty and grindy are the words that best describe Steve’s performance,” says Louis Walker, Oakton men’s golf coach. “Steve and the other golfers had to play the whole tournament during winds of over 25 miles per hour. Those are not easy conditions to play in with such huge stakes on the line.”
Bukielski is hoping to build upon his performance in the 2017 national tournament in Mesa, Arizona.
“Last year when the tournament was held in Arizona, I finished in the middle of the pack,” says Bukielski. “Now that this is my second time around, I have more confidence and want to represent Oakton well. In 2017, I was out there pressing myself. This year, I plan on playing my best while having fun.”
Adds Walker, “Having that experience from before will only benefit Steve. I expect him to do very well when the tournament rolls around in May.”
Oakton sophomore Chris Blaha (Hoffman Estates, Conant High School) may also earn a berth to nationals as a second alternate.
Oakton men’s golfer Blaha Skyway Medalist of the Year; Owls eye national championship
(Oct. 4, 2017) Oakton Community College men’s golfer Chris Blaha (Hoffman Estates, Conant High School) is the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference (ISCC) Medalist of the Year, ranking first of all golfers in the eight-team league with his 74.5 average.
“This honor feels so good after all the hard work I put in all season,” Blaha says. “I’m very ecstatic to represent Oakton as golfer of the year.”
Louis Walker, Oakton men’s golf coach, says Blaha’s drives were a huge part of his success.
“Chris constantly hits the ball over 300 yards off the tee, putting himself in good position from the start,” Walker says. “His overall performance was extremely impressive, and he definitely earned it.”
Other Oakton golfers stood out in league play, as two Owls finished among the ISCC’s top 10. Stephen Bukieski (Niles, Schaumburg High School) boasted a 75 average to take second, and Clay Fisher (Northbrook, Glenbrook North High School) finished sixth with his 79 average.
Overall, the Owls took second in the conference behind College of Lake County in a league that also includes Elgin Community College, McHenry County College, Moraine Valley Community College, Morton College, Prairie State College and Waubonsee Community College.
“First place would have been nice, but second is still an accomplishment,” says Walker. “Our golfers are very talented and should feel good about themselves. It was definitely an incredible season to have three of the top golfers.”
Blaha was medalist at the recent NJCAA Region IV Classic held Sept. 29, at Senica’s Oak Ridge Golf Club in La Salle. He took the top spot over approximately 60 golfers shooting par (72) at the 18-hole, 6,900-yard golf course.
“I shot under par under all the par 5’s, and that was key to my success,” Blaha says.
Blaha and the rest of the Oakton golfers return to Oak Ridge Oct. 5-7 to compete in the NJCAA Region IV Regional Golf Tournament. The top two teams will qualify for nationals scheduled in Gulf Shores, Alabama, in May 2018. In addition, the top five golfers not on the top two teams are eligible to compete in next year’s tournament.
“Our players are on fire right now,” says Walker. “My expectations are for our team to qualify or have individuals represent Oakton in Alabama.”
Blaha knows that he can’t rest on his laurels heading into the upcoming tournament.
“I’m confident because I’m playing at the same course I medaled at recently,” he says. “However, I can’t slack off and get too cocky. I just need to be determined and help my teammates stay focused.”
Oakton men’s golf returns top-caliber talent for 2017
(Aug. 23, 2017) Seasoned Oakton Community College’s golfers Stephen Bukielski (Niles, Schaumburg High School) and Chris Blaha (Hoffman Estates, Conant High School) will be leading the way for the Owls this season, according to Louis Walker, Oakton men’s golf coach.
Both Bukielski and Blaha competed in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II Men’s Golf Championship in Mesa, Arizona, as freshmen last season. That experience is invaluable and will rub off on the rest of the team, says Walker, who is entering his 10th season with the Owls.
“It’s a huge advantage for us having two national qualifiers returning,” Walker says. “They’ve already been through a collegiate golf season and will bring poise and skill to the course for us during every match.”
“Playing in nationals helped to get a lot of the jitters out of the way and gives me a lot of confidence heading into this season,” says Bukielski, who also was an all-conference player in high school. “Doing so well last year gives me a lot of confidence heading into this season. This year, we’re looking to have another good season and have our whole team qualify for nationals.”
The Owls also add two golfers from Northbrook’s Glenbrook North High School, Patrick Scanlon and Clayton Fisher.
“Both Chris and I have been working with the new golfers,” Bukielski explains. “However, the thing about golf is that you can only control and worry about how you play. We want everyone on our team to do well, so we’ll be cheering for ourselves as well our teammates.”
“We have a good group of four close players,” says Walker. “What also will help us is that Chris can constantly hit the ball over 300 yards off the tee.”
Walker says while he wants his golfers to qualify for nationals again, he is eyeing the top spot in the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference (ISCC).
“The last time Oakton was the champion of the ISCC was 1993,” Walker says. “That’s a long time ago. Since I’ve been coach, every team but the Owls has won the conference. I’m looking for that to change this year.”
The Owls start the season Friday, Aug. 25, at the Highland 36 Golf Tournament at the Parks Hill Golf Course in Freeport, sponsored by Highland Community College.
“We have a lot of momentum going into the season, and the first match will set the tone for us to see how good we can be,” Walker says.