Coach Becky Halverson and the Middleton girls golf team felt like outsiders last fall.
Instead of watching her Cardinals — the 2019 WIAA Division 1 state team champions — take on Blackwolf Run in Kohler for the WIAA’s fall 2020 state tournament, they had to watch from the gallery.
Of course, that was because COVID-19 protocols shut down fall sports for most Dane County high schools, including Middleton, and all the schools in the Big Eight Conference.
“It was difficult, that’s for sure,” Halverson said. “It was harder than I thought it was going to be to watch and not have my girls there playing.”
Now, it appears, good things might be coming to those Cardinals who waited.
After a sizzling regular season, Middleton is among the favorites to challenge for another state team title during the alternate fall-in-the-spring season the WIAA offered to those schools that skipped the fall season.
Middleton is one of 36 programs statewide that will compete in one of four sectionals on Tuesday and Wednesday, hoping to qualify for one of two sectionals next Monday. The alternate fall state tournament will take place May 17-18 at Blackwolf Run.
Junior Ellie Frisch, one of her team’s top varsity returnees, said the lack of a fall season — especially with the team holding so much potential — made for a difficult situation to bear.
“Since we’ve all made a lot of friends with girls from different schools, it was tough seeing them get to play,” Frisch said. “Obviously you’re happy for them, but you’d just love to be out there.
“We knew our team was going to be good again, so it was a little hard to not know if we were going to get a chance to defend our state title or not.”
For Glenna Sanderson, the team’s senior leader and top returning scorer from the 2019 championship team, the prospect of not having a final season put her in the toughest situation of all.
“It was a little frustrating not knowing if I’d get the chance to play for my senior year and be able to finish out my high school golf career with the girls who had been here since my sophomore year,” Sanderson said.
“At one point she thought her high school golf career was done, and it was pretty heartbreaking for her,” Halverson said. “She is super thankful to be given this opportunity; she definitely is having a lot of fun with it.”
Junior Milanne Dahmen, sophomore Amanda Beckman and freshman Vivian Cressman have all helped contribute to the Cardinals’ winning streak.
“The biggest thing we can do, since we can’t be out there with each other, is support (one another),” Frisch said. “Since we have experience, it’s our job to help the newer people just get rid of some nerves.”
One approach the Cardinals use is to turn up the intensity during practice.
“We have mini-competitions pretty much every day at practice,” Sanderson said, “whether it be putting, or out on the par-3 course, or chipping. We always find a way to get that competitive aspect into it, so we’re more used to the competition on the course. I think that’s important.”
Halverson believes the short game is the key to big-event success, saying it’s the first part of a golfer’s game to go and the hardest to get back.
But above all else, she has faith in the work ethic of her team.
“Even when they have a great round, they still know what needs to be worked on to keep improving,” Halverson said. “This group of girls is never just OK being where they’re at. They want to keep getting better every day.”
And the Cardinals win by emphasizing the team aspect of what is normally an individual sport.
“It’s nice being able to practice and help each other with things we need,” Sanderson said, “or just be there for each other whether it be golf-related or not,” Sanderson said.
“I have had the most fun coaching this group of girls than I’ve had in a long time,” Halverson said, “just because we weren’t sure if we were going to be given this opportunity. All the girls are extremely grateful to have been able to play, and it’s been fun.”