Alex girls' golf preview: Taking nothing for granted
Members of the Alexandria girls’ golf team have had almost nine months to think about a second-place finish at the Class AAA state tournament, and their reaction today is the same as it was back then.
They surprised even themselves at Bunker Hills during those two days in early June. Perhaps that’s why they don’t talk much of winning a state championship despite returning four of their top players from that team.
“I think we’re all just kind of shocked from last year at how well we actually did,” senior Emily Thul said. “We kind of came in expecting to be underdogs, kind of like, ‘Yay, we made it to state.’ Then after the first day, it was more, ‘Wow, we could really do this.’ This year, we want to try and win, but that’s not what it’s all about. We first have to get there.”
It’s not that they don’t believe in themselves. The Cardinals are loaded with three experienced upperclassmen in seniors Thul and Amanda Bigger and junior Natalie Amundson.
Her sister, freshman Bridget Amundson, also played varsity last year and gives this team a top four that can consistently post scores in the 80s.
“We don’t talk about it a lot,” Bigger said of winning a state title. “I don’t know if it’s too cocky to talk about, but I think we’re totally capable of it. I would be more comfortable talking about it, and it’s definitely one of my goals to win it this year.”
The Cardinals know there are no guarantees and that they can’t get too far ahead of themselves. Head coach Tim Zupfer said the natural progression of things is to focus on winning a conference title first. Their goal every season is to be playing their best golf come section tournament time.
A strong Buffalo team will be waiting for them once they get there this season. The Bison return talented senior Lexi Bollant, who finished eighth at state last year, and junior Madi Jewell, who tied for 15th at state as a sophomore.
“First of all, we have to work at it and post the scores to do anything,” Natalie Amundson said. “I think it’s just working hard and taking it one round at a time, one meet at a time and hopefully when we get to sections we can beat out Buffalo, who’s going to have some up and coming players who are pretty good. First and foremost it’s getting to state. Once we get there, winning - we’re capable of it, but we just have to post the scores to do it.”
The Cardinals came close to winning last year, in part because of their depth. That came into focus on the final day when their sixth golfer in the lineup, Shelby Iverson, scored a career-low 86 to help Alexandria hold off third-place New Prague by five strokes.
Alexandria will try to identify the players who can provide that kind of depth early on this season. Seniors Allison Schwartz and Alexis Kokett and juniors Kalley Bistodeau and Brooke Swanson are all returning letter winners who Zupfer said should be in the mix to fill the final two spots in the varsity lineup.
“We have a whole group of kids shooting in that 50-55 range at the JV level,” Zupfer said. “If we can get some of those girls to break 50 for nine holes and get their scoring averages somewhere between 90-95 for 18 holes, they’re going to help us. Then we’ve got some freshmen coming in. That’s kind of the unknown.”
The Cardinals know they don’t have to do anything out of their comfort zone to put themselves in contention come tournament time. They got a 79 from Thul on day one and a 76 from Bigger on day two at the state tournament last year. Those were important, but their ability to avoid using any scores in the 90s was vital in holding on to second place.
“I think we’ve got four or five golfers that are easily all in the same high 80s to low 90s range,” Thul said. “If we can keep that, we’ve got a good, solid team right there. You can’t ask for more than four scores in the 80s. I think that’s definitely what has been a big factor in our success last year and hopefully will continue to be the reason for success this year.”
Alexandria trailed by just four strokes after the first day last year before Edina finished things off with scores of 76, 79, 83 and 85 in round two. The Hornets return all four of their top golfers this season, which likely makes them the team to beat again this spring.
The Cardinals would love to be right there with them come June. With an experienced and talented lineup, there’s no reason to believe they can’t be.
“I’ve thought about it and I think it’s a great goal for us,” N. Amundson said of winning state. “We know we have four returning players and three who have been playing for a long time. I think it’s within our reach. We just have to post the scores to do it.”
2014 ALEXANDRIA GIRLS’ GOLF ROSTER
SENIORS – Amanda Bigger, Alexis Kokett, Allison Schwartz, Emily Thul
JUNIORS – Natalie Amundson, Kalley Bistodeau, Morgan Craig, Brooke Swanson, Gretchen Watkins
SOPHOMORES – Chelsea Drown, Macyn Hagen
FRESHMEN – Sheridan Allen-Opp, Bridget Amundson, April Jost, Stevie Kaczor, Onna O’Connor, Cassidy Petersen, McKenna Smith, Elise Stockmoe, Lauren Stockmoe, Mariah Wegner
COACHES – Head coach – Tim Zupfer, sixth season; Assistant coach – Mark Storhaug