They knew in late July it was a possibility. The talent was there and with hard work, focus and an unnerving focus, they could make it happen.
After two months and countless rounds of golf, the Onalaska High School girls golf team punched their ticket to the WIAA Division 1 State Meet as they won the Tomah sectional on a chilly Monday afternoon with 347 strokes at Hiawatha Golf Club. Eau Claire Memorial shot a 253 to finish second, and also earned a state-tournament berth at the top two teams advanced.
The WIAA State Meet is set for Oct. 12-13.
“I told my wife in late July, early August, that the girls had been playing a lot and even though we’re young they are driven. They know what they need to do to be successful,” Onalaska coach Daren Sims said.
“I thought if we played our game and we can shoot a 355 or 350 or under, we sure liked our chances, but the girls still had to go out there and do it.”
Junior Sydney Hubbard helped the Hilltoppers’ cause by shooting an 80 on the par-70 course to finish second behind Hudson’s Lexi Jonas, who shot a 78. Sophomore Erin Ericson followed closely behind, carding an 84, which left her in a tie for fourth place.
“The girls played really well,” Sims said. “They had a couple bad holes here or there, but all in all they stuck with it and played well to the end.”
After building a seven-stroke lead on the front nine, Onalaska was able to maintain its momentum through a tricky back nine. Hubbard shot a 40 on both the front and back, but Ericson was able to slice two strokes off her score, going from a 43 to a 41 after the turn, to help the Hilltoppers retain their lead.
“Some of these girls, Hubbard in particular, has been pushing herself for a number of years to do this,” Sims said. “They put in the time and did it together. I thought if we could stay together and play together we could definitely do it.”
While the Hilltoppers have until Sunday to prepare for the state meet, which is held at University Ridge Golf Course in Verona, it will be an entirely new experience for a young Hilltoppers’ squad that consists of three juniors and two sophomores.
After sitting out the regional meet due to an illness, Katie Chafoulias came back to shoot a 43 and Karli Breiling finished with a 46.
The Hilltoppers weren’t the only team turning heads on Monday, however, as Tomah’s Ilayna Long completed her high school career at Hiawatha in stunning fashion. The senior used an 8-iron to ace the par-3 16th hole. Long hit the front of the green but was able to roll the ball over 20 feet to find the cup.
“It was exciting to see. I thought she pushed it a little left but it just kept rolling and rolling and rolling,” Tomah coach Tonya Gnewikow said. “I’ve been coaching 10 years and this is the first one I’ve ever witnessed in competition.”
Long shot a meet low 38 on the back nine and finished with an 81 to qualify individually after the Timberwolves placed sixth as a team.
“I told her if you want any chance at state you have to be in the 30s on the back nine,” Gnewikow said of Long, who avoided a three-way playoff for fourth place. “The back nine plays a little longer and it worked in her benefit. She had the lowest back nine score out of everyone.”
Katie Tillman (91) placed 21st, Allison Krultz (98) 37th and Isabelle Zingler shot a 101 to finish 41 for Tomah.
Sparta finished in eighth with 408 strokes. The Spartans were led by Ginny Yahnke (87) and Becca Yahnke (92), who finished in 12th and 24th place, respectively. Laney Sullivan shot a 101 to finish 41st, and Kayla Von Ruden carded a 128 to place 147th for the Spartans.