With a new season set to tee off with the Reedsburg Invitational on Friday, it’s finally time to find out just how good the Portage prep girls golf team can be.
There are pieces in place that suggest the Warriors could be pretty darn good in 2019, and atop that list is Sophie Denure. The junior is a two-year letterwinner and established herself as one of the best players in the Badger North Conference a year ago, when she earned first-team All-Badger North honors by finishing with the second-lowest scoring average in the conference.
Denure’s sophomore season saw her finish third individually at the Badger Conference meet before advancing to sectionals by finishing eighth with a 91 at the WIAA regional meet.
Once at sectionals, Denure got off to a strong start and was in position to advance to the state tournament before a rough few holes down the stretch dropped her back to 19th place with a 92, and out of contention for one of the state-qualifying spots at the sectional.
It was a disappointing finish to the season for Denure, but it was an experience that should only help her this fall.
“She has really turned into a special player, and even though she is still an underclassman, she is a true leader,” Portage coach Ed Carlson said following last year’s sectional. “She probably doesn’t realize it at the moment because she didn’t have the finish she wants, but she will really build off this performance and the growth she has shown this season.”
Now that Denure is a year older, Carlson notices that she is starting to get a better understanding of the game of golf.
“She is very reflective and that has certainly helped her continue to develop as a player,” Carlson said. “Sophie also has tremendous intangibles in so many areas. She will do anything for her teammates and she always puts the team first.”
And while Portage will certainly miss Anna Davidson, who graduated following a 2018 season that saw her earn second-team All-Badger North honors before joining Denure as a sectional qualifier, the Warriors do have other experienced golfers on the roster.
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Senior Rachel Hepler, who has been a letterwinner each of the last two seasons, will be a valuable member of the varsity lineup again this season.
“Rachel seems to be made for golf. Her personality fits the game well, and her demeanor and attitude on the course is something for others to (take after),” Carlson said. “She is also very coachable. It really doesn’t matter what part of the game it is, she is always looking to improve.”
Junior Katelyn Williams also returns, and it’s a safe bet she will be in the varsity lineup, as she was a letterwinner last year as a sophomore.
Just who else will be in the varsity lineup when the season opens on Friday is anyone’s guess. Carlson thinks he has plenty of players to choose from.
“In reality, I can see seven to eight players having a legitimate chance to contribute on the varsity level at some point this season,” Carlson said. “It is good to have that depth, and I know the girls will work hard to get everything they can out of their skills.”
As for the conference race, defending champion Waunakee is the favorite to once again finish on top of the league, but it should be a wide open race for the No. 2 spot. Carlson thinks Reedsburg “has really put together a nice program,” while DeForest and Baraboo “also have pretty good squads.”
And Portage could be in the mix too, especially if some of the younger players step up to give the Warriors five good varsity scores each meet.
“We should also be competitive in the Badger North Conference,” Carlson said. “The ultimate goal for our team is always to build and maintain positive energy and focus on making continual improvement that gives us the greatest chance to play our best golf at the end of the season.”