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After facing a number of changes in 2017, the Wisconsin Dells girls golf team enters 2018 with lots of returnees.

The Lady Chiefs Chiefs bring back four varsity players from last year’s team that reached sectionals as a team last year even without a conference schedule. That group of returnees, coupled with five newcomers, has second-year coach Seth Neilsen eager about the possibilities.

“There’s obviously always stuff work on, but I feel like the girls are in a great spot right now and I’m looking forward to getting into some competition,” he said. “I think we’re in a good place and I’m really excited to get started.”

Leading the way for the Lady Chiefs Is senior Allison Anderson, who qualified for the WIAA Division 2 state tournament as an individual last season. Anderson finished tied for 26th with a 57-over-par 201 last year, thanks in part to a difficult 108 in her second round.

Neilsen believes that qualifying last year was a major confidence builder for Anderson and that following last season’s difficult close, she’s driven to get back to University Ridge this year.

“I think she’s really looking forward to trying to get back there and seeing if she can’t play better,” he said. “I think she’s in a good place and in golf there’s always things to work on, we just have to find out what they are and try and fix them.”

Along with Anderson, the Lady Chiefs return juniors Maura Alvarez and Riley Lange, and sophomore Kayla Gray. The trio was in Wisconsin Dells’ varsity rotation last year and will again be the mix.

The trio helped get the Lady Chiefs to the sectionals last season and Neilsen believes that helped set a bar for this season. He thinks that the group is eager to do better and “aside from getting the feel and working out a few kinks, they’re back to where they are.”

Behind the group of returnees, Neilsen and the Lady Chiefs welcome five newcomers to this year’s team. Junior Molly McClyman and sophomores Audra Johnson and Gracie Walker are out of the first time, while freshmen Sehroom Benipal and Hannah Schneider are also out for golf.

While the fivesome is unproven, Neilsen believes the group will help foster more competition among the Lady Chiefs after having only five total players last year.

“If you have five girls, everybody knows they’re playing every time,” he said. “Now with newer girls who may not be as accomplished, if they work hard, they can fight for that fifth spot and maybe that fourth spot.”

“I think that helps elevate everybody’s game. Our goal is to have the five best golfers at all times, and that might change.”

With the bar set higher for this season, the expectations will weigh more on the Lady Chiefs. Neislen is expecting better scores from his team and he believes the girls will have those high standards as well. While that may seem daunting, Neilsen isn’t averse to the idea of pressure.

“It kind of makes you focus a little more, really think about it and golf is a pressure game,” he said. “It got them used to, or at least got them exposure to some kind of real pressure, and in the long run it will help even though there is a little bit of added pressure.”

In the early part of the season, Neilsen said that the main issue for the Lady Chiefs will be ironing out their short game and getting a feel again for the game. Wisconsin Dells will again have the challenge of playing as an independent, while the goal will remain getting back to team sectionals.

“I want to go back to sectionals as a team because that was such a great experience,” Neilsen said. “The next goal, I think, is to improve our averages. We’re going to see where we’re at and maybe see where should be this week and the week after.”

The Lady Chiefs open their season Thursday with a home dual meet against Reedsburg before competing in the Reedsburg Invite on Friday.

Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or contact him at 608-745-3512.