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The 2017 season was an up-and-down one for the Portage girls golf team.

On some days the Warriors showed great potential, like when they won the Baraboo Invitational, or when they shot 40 shots below their season average on their way to a fifth-place finish at a stacked Division 1 Middleton Regional.

On other days, Portage struggled mightily, like when none of the varsity players could break 50 in an 18-shot loss to Baraboo, or when the team finished in sixth place at the seven-team Badger North Conference Meet.

With Portage’s 2018 campaign set to open on Monday at the Stoughton Scramble, coach Ed Carlson thinks the Warriors could experience more highs than lows this season, his 11th in charge of the team. And with three of his top five varsity players returning this season, including both of Portage’s sectional qualifiers from a year ago, Carlson might be right.

Returning letterwinners from last season are senior Anna Davidson, junior Rachel Hepler and sophomore Sophie Denure. All three are team captains, and all will likely be fixtures in the varsity lineup again this season.

Denure had a breakout freshman season last year. She quickly established herself as a up-and-coming talent by finishing fourth at the two-day Wisconsin Dells Invitational. Denure went on to earn a spot on the All-Badger North Conference Second Team before shooting 94 at regionals to earn a spot at the Division 1 Verona Sectional.

Carlson said Denure isn’t your typical high school golfer.

“Sophie has worked hard at golf and she is really a student of the game. I love the way she approaches the game mentally, and she also deserves a lot of credit for her dedication,” Carlson said. “There are very few players that reflect in the way Sophie does after practices and competitions. It really doesn’t matter what part of the game it is, she is always looking to improve.”

Davidson could be in store for a big final season with the Portage golf program. She shot a career-low 92 at the Middleton Regional last season, including a career-best 43 on the front nine, helping her join Denure at sectionals.

Davidson, a two-time varsity letter winner, has been a fixture with the program over the years, playing in a lot of big tournaments for the Warriors.

“It has been fun to watch her mature and develop over the years in so many facets of the game and with life in general,” Carlson said. “I really couldn’t be prouder to see what Anna has become, and I am excited for her senior season.”

Hepler picked up her first varsity letter in golf a year ago, and Carlson thinks the junior, who was also an Academic All-State selection by the Golf Coaches Association of Wisconsin last year, will only improve this fall.

“Rachel is really swinging the club well. Her swing plane is much more consistent and she always has pretty good tempo,” Carlson said. “I also love her demeanor and attitude on the course. She has the ability to stay focused at all times, and nothing seems to prevent her from giving her best effort.”

Figuring out who will fill out the final two spots in the varsity lineup will be up to Carlson and assistant coaches Rick Maass and Matt Denure. There are eight players currently trying to grab the final two spots in the varsity lineup, and Carlson wouldn’t be surprised if many of them earn that opportunity.

“In reality, I can see seven or eight players having a legitimate chance to contribute at some point on the varsity level,” Carlson said, “and it will be fun seeing them develop.”

Waunakee appears to be a solid favorite to defend the Badger North Conference championship it won a year ago, but Carlson thinks the battle for second place is wide open. And while the Warriors would like to finish in the top half of the conference standings and improve on the fifth-place finish from a year ago, Carlson isn’t too worried about where his team will end up.

“The philosophy of our program has always been to focus on improving skills, growing as a player and as a person, and to have fun practicing and competing,” Carlson said. “That is how we define a successful season. When you do those things, everything takes care of itself.”