Since head coach Seth Neilsen took over, the Wisconsin Dells girls golf team has had plenty of success, qualifying as a team for back-to-back WIAA Division 2 sectional meets.
With four of their five varsity players back from that group, the Lady Chiefs look primed for another strong campaign in 2019.
“They’ve had this experience, understand what it’s about and having that, you really can’t replace it. I’m very excited to have those four girls back and to have some other girls have an opportunity at that level,” Neilsen said.
The one loss to graduation Wisconsin Dells’ did suffer was a big one in Allison Anderson. A constant in the varsity line-up, Anderson qualified as an individual for the WIAA Div. 2 state meet as a junior and was the Lady Chiefs’ top leader last season.
While he knows replacing Anderson is out of the question, Neilsen said Anderson’s success can be something to draw on for the rest of the Lady Chiefs.
“All you can do really is sort of use her as an example for the other kids,” he said. “Replacing her is impossible, but she can very much be used as an example for the younger kids about what can be accomplished.”
Stepping into a leadership role this season is the senior duo of Maura Alvarez and Riley Lange. Similar to Anderson, Alvarez has been a constant in the Dells’ varsity line-up, now entering her fourth season in the Lady Chiefs’ top-5, while this will be Lange’s third season in the varsity rotation.
Neilsen said that the pair has stepped up so far, thanks in part to this being their final season.
“We’ve only had a couple practices, but you can already see them willing to take some of the younger girls, set up some drills and work on things,” he said. “It definitely feels like they’re the leaders, it’s their team and they’re definitely running with it, which I’m a huge fan of.”
On top of leading the way in practice, both girls spent time on the links during the offseason. According to Neilsen, Alvarez competed in a number of junior PGA events, helping her be “more competitive over the summer and working on that competitive nature of the game.
While she didn’t compete in as many events, Lange was hard at work, spending time working on ball contact and being more consistent.
Along with the duo of Alvarez and Lange, juniors Kayla Gray and Gracie Walker are back after playing on the varsity team last season. Gray played immediately as a freshman and added another year of experience last year while Walker followed a similar path last season.
In her first year playing, Walker inserted herself into the No. 5 varsity spot and slowly progressed, ultimately leading the Chiefs at the Div. 2 Madison Edgewood sectional meet with a 95. Heading into this season, Neilsen said he’s just looking for general improvement from the duo.
“I’m looking for them to not really have the big ups and downs as far as scores,” he said. “Just staying more consistent with scores in the mid-90s, high-80s early on. I’m just looking for a little more consistency from those two early on.”
Behind the varsity returnees, the Lady Chiefs have a number of girls competing for the final varsity spot. Senior Molly McClyman and sophomores Sehroob Benipal and Hannah Schneider are back for their second seasons, while sophomores Lauren Eck, Jenny Henry and Rayna Hess, as well as freshmen Libby Walker, Stella Scott and Olga Hernandez are playing for the first time.
After having a smaller teams his first two seasons in charge, Neilsen is thrilled to have 13 girls out this season, something that should foster some heavy competition among everyone.
With those seven returnees back, Neilsen said that experience will be the Lady Chiefs’ top strength this season, while consistency and developing a competitive, mental edge will take time to come to fruition. Something that should help with that is the fact the Lady Chiefs are competing a newly formed conference this season, joining Prairie du Chien, Lancaster, Darlington and Hazel Green Southwestern co-op.
After playing independently the last two seasons, Neilsen is excited for the team to have something to play for.
“I think playing in the conference will definitely help that because they’re experiencing that pressure more, instead of just happening at regionals and sectionals all of a sudden," he said.
That added pressure should pay dividends should the Lady Chiefs reach sectionals as a team for a third straight season. Wisconsin Dells finished just 14 strokes behind Edgerton and Arcadia for a three-way tie for second place at last year’s Edgewood sectional, and Neilsen knows that was confirmation the Lady Chiefs deserved to be there.
“I think it was an eye opener and it’s paramount having them all back and a great tool to use,” he said.