Sectional champs

Tomah golfers display their plaque after winning the WIAA Division 1 Sectional in Stevens Point Oct. 2. Seated from left: Sophie Pokela, Sarah Peterson and Brin Neumann. Standing: Head coach Tonya Gnewikow, Hannah Zhu, Amelia Zingler, Jayda Zhu and assistance coach Jeff Larsen

Sarah Peterson normally isn’t the Tomah golfer with the lowest score, but she’s arguably the team’s most important player.

“She is the team mom,” said freshman teammate Brin Neumann. “She’s always hugging us and telling us, ‘good job.’”

Peterson will be the undisputed leader when the Timberwolves head to the WIAA state girls golf tournament at UW-Madison’s University Ridge Golf Club Oct. 14-15. She’s the only senior on a young team that also includes junior Jayda Zhu, sophomore Sophie Pokela, freshmen Amelia Zingler and sophomore alternate Hannah Zhu.

The youngsters look up to Peterson for her positive approach to the game. Pokela said Peterson always talks about keeping the “seat buckle on” during a match.

“She’s never in a bad mood,” Pokela said.

As a first-team all-MVC performer last season, Peterson knew she would inherit the leadership mantle of a team a young team that suddenly took the local high school golf scene by storm in August. She described her role as “keeping everyone positive and happy” and is proud of how the mix of classes came together as teammates.

“We have such a great team bond,” Peterson said.

Tomah is making its first trip to state as a team since 2014. While the Timberwolves have been competitive since then − three individuals qualified for state from 2015-18 − they’ve played in the shadow of Onalaska, which won four straight MVC championships from 2015-18.

It didn’t take long for the Timberwolves to upend the 2019 pecking order. Zingler said the team’s potential became clear when Pokela shot a 72 at the second meet of the season at Hiawatha.

Pokela said she sensed the team’s potential before the season even started.

“I honestly knew we were going to be this good during the summer because all of us were playing tournaments during the summer, and we were doing pretty good,” she said.

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The Timberwolves will take a balanced team to Madison. Their number-one golfer has rotated from meet to meet, and Neumann, Peterson and Pokela all have earned medalist honors.

None of the six has ever golfed University Ridge, although Peterson watched teammate Molly Larsen compete at state in 2017.

“It’s a challenging course, and you need a lot of strategy,” Peterson said. “You have to know where to the ball is going to go, and there are bunkers everywhere.”

Tomah coach Tonya Gnewikow said the course “has bigger greens than most courses we play.”

She said there’s also the “wow factor” when playing on the home course of a major collegiate golf team.

Gnewikow said except for the top three teams, the Division 1 field is wide open. Tomah enters the tournament ranked ninth by the Wisconsin Association of High School Golf Coaches.

“We would love to be fourth, fifth or sixth, and that’s definitely attainable for us,” Gnewikow said.

Peterson, meanwhile, advises her teammates to enjoy the three days in Madison, which include an Oct. 13 practice round.

“Have fun and enjoy the experience,” she said.

Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at steve.rundio@lee.net.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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