The Wisconsin Dells boys golf team went through plenty of growing pains last season.
After graduating its top five players in 2016, the Chiefs finished fifth in the South Central Conference last season and failed to advance any individuals and as a team to the Division 2 Viroqua sectional. As difficult as last season was, second-year coach Seth Neilsen believes those struggles will help lead the Chiefs to a successful campaign in 2018.
“Having most of those kids play in pressure situations, we were relatively inexperienced and we got some experience,” he said. “I anticipate and expect the kids to be able to handle that better and handle all of our meets better, especially as we move toward conference and regionals.”
Wisconsin Dells returns four of its varsity five golfers this season with Sebastian Frank being unable to play after spending a portion of the school year playing junior hockey in Minnesota. Leading the way out of those returnees is Will Oberdorf.
The senior was the Chiefs’ top finisher at the SCC meet last year, taking seventh with a team-best 15-over-par 87. Oberdorf also led the way for Wisconsin Dells at the Division 2 Platteville Regional, tying for 14th place with a 21-over-par 92, just three shots away from qualifying for sectionals.
With a strong year under his belt last year, Neilsen expects big things from Oberdorf in 2018.
“I expect him to do better than last year, he expects to do better and I’ve seen a great improvement,” he said. “There’s more of willingness from Will to figure out his game; adjust things on the fly to be able to score and so far he’s striking the ball really well. We fixed a couple things and he’s hitting the ball well.”
Along with Oberdorf, seniors Will Walsh and Dylan Hartling are back after spending regular time in the varsity lineup last season. Similarly to Oberdorf, Neilsen believes the duo is hitting the ball well to start the season.
“Both of those guys are striking the ball better than they started last year and I know sometimes in the offseason you can lose a little bit, but they didn’t lose as much,” Neilsen said. “They want to do the best they can and make a run at conference.”
Rounding out the group of returnees is Ethan Luther. Luther was forced to play up a majority of last season due to the Chiefs small numbers, but Neilsen knows that experience is beneficial and noted the shift in confidence from the sophomore early on this season.
That was on display last Monday when Luther won one of the playoffs the team held before last Tuesday’s Mauston SCC mini meet that was subsequently postponed.
“Ethan didn’t seem nervous at all,” Neilsen added. “I think anytime anybody can play at that varsity level, they get experience. They understand what it’s about, what it’s like playing under pressure.”
Coupled with the returning varsity players, senior Daniel Nate is back along with sophomore Riley Hess. Senior Shamus Myers is out for golf after previously playing baseball and sophomore Riley Eck also joins the team after not going out last season.
Neilsen expects that foursome to contend with Oberdorf, Walsh, Hartling and Luther for the five varsity spots, something Neilsen sees as a major advantage for the team.
“I think it’s going to be the key for this year, because those guys know we have seven or eight players on any given day that can compete for those five spots,” he said. “We want to put the best five out there and I think that competition is going to push everyone to be better.”
Along with the team’s competition, Neilsen said the team’s focus has been strong this season, noting that the group of seniors have led the charge. Neilsen’s main area of improvement for the team will be similar to years past, the short game.
“They all want to hit the big drive, they all want to hit further, but in a meet you don’t use your driver every hole. You chip, you putt and approach every hole,” he said. “We’re going to focus on getting up and down, hitting greens in regulation and just those things you can do to improve your score. We’re not going to get fancy, we’re going to pound the basics and hopefully it’s going to lead us to success.”
The Chiefs are hoping the success includes a South Central Conference title. Prior to last year’s fifth place finish, Wisconsin Dells had won 10 of the previous 13 SCC crowns.
Neilsen is confident that this year’s team, behind the experience gained last year and competition for the varsity spots, will lead them to the top. Beyond the conference title, the Chiefs are aiming at a postseason run, including reaching the sectional meet as a team.
“That’s what we’re shooting for this year and I think it’s achievable,” he said. “We just have to stay dedicated and work on the things we need to work on.”