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Saving their best for last

Alexandria senior Emily Thul watches her putt on the second day of the Class AAA state touranment at Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids last Wednesday morning. Thul shot a 73 in her final round with the Cardinals as the Alexandria team set its third school-record score of the season to finish second at the state meet. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

Alexandria’s Emily Thul was left with a bittersweet taste in her mouth last year after a second-round 89 at the Class AAA state tournament at Bunker Hills, where nothing seemed to go right on the golf course.

Thul could take solace in the fact that her teammates picked her up and posted the scores to finish second in the team standings. Still, she knew it was the final round of her season and it didn’t go the way she expected it to.

Thul wasn’t about to let a second chance slip through her fingers. Instead, both she and fellow senior captain Amanda Bigger made the most of the final rounds of their high school careers last week at the state meet.

Bigger capped off a six-year career on varsity the best way she could – with a career low 71. That shot her up the individual standings into third place with her two-day score of 148. Thul wasn’t far behind in the second round, tying a career low with a 73 that left her tied for 13th after shooting 84 a day before.

“It’s awesome,” Bigger said. “Emily and I have kind of been talking about this round for a while. It’s our last tournament of high school golf, and it’s awesome to do it with her by my side the whole way.”

Bigger and Thul both had rounds where everything seemed to be clicking. They were hitting fairways and greens in regulation, which meant they were seldom scrambling to make par.

“It was just kind of like this senioritis thing,” Thul said of bouncing back on day two. “Just realizing it was my last meet ever. It was like I just had to come back and play better today, enjoy it.”

Bigger said one of the biggest factors in her shooting a career low was her ability to keep her composure. Playing with number one golfers from the top teams means being followed by TV cameras and photographers for much of the final round.

Those players develop an ability to block out the bigger galleries and focus on their games. Even good rounds feature missed opportunities, but she didn’t let any of that affect her heading into her next hole.

“I probably missed five putts that I easily could have made, but my wedge game was better than [Tuesday],” Bigger said. “I think that’s where a lot of my strokes came off of. I hit most of the fairways, a couple not-so-good ones, but otherwise it was just keeping my head in the game.”

The Cardinals would have had to be almost perfect to beat Wayzata in the team standings. Thul said the Trojans deserved to win the title after shooting back-to-back 311s. That made for an uphill climb after the Cardinals shot a 330 on day one.

Alexandria shifted its focus to catching Edina from there. The Hornets led the Cardinals by six strokes, a number that proved to be well within reach after Edina fired a 326 on Wednesday.

The Cardinals would need contributions from throughout their lineup to overcome the deficit. Junior Natalie Amundson came up big like she has all season, shooting a 78. Bigger, Thul and Amundson all had the ability to shoot a team low on any given day this spring.

On days when one of them didn’t have it, their teammates were usually there to pick them up. Only two teams beat Alexandria this year and both were state champions in Detroit Lakes (AA) and Wayzata. Depth had a lot to do with that as the Cardinals featured 10 letter winners who contributed throughout the season.

“I have had past teams with good players at the top of the lineup that posted similar numbers, but that did not have the players of this caliber throughout the rest of the line-up,” head coach Tim Zupfer said. “Amanda struggled in the section meet, and we had Bridget Amundson step up and post her two best rounds of her young career. All of these things had to happen for our team to have the historic season we had.”

With a new school-record score of 311 on day two, Alexandria wrapped up one of the best seasons in program history. That score also tied the Cardinals with Wayzata for a Class AAA state tournament record at Bunker Hills.

The Cardinals came into the spring with lofty goals after returning their top four players from a second-place team a year ago. With all the records set, it’s safe to say they lived up to the expectations they had for themselves.

“It has been so memorable, especially setting three different school records, three different times,” Thul said. “I think that has been one of the biggest highlights. It’s also just been fun to have such a good team, so much depth and having so much fun together. It’s always just fun playing with them.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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