Middleton's girls golfers win state

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton's girls golf team was jumping for joy after winning the WIAA Division 1 state title Tuesday./Photo courtesy of Rae Miles

VERONA — Loren Skibba had just made the biggest one foot putt of her young life.

And as Middleton’s standout senior golfer was trying to exit the 18th green at University Ridge, she was met by a mob of giddy Cardinals.

“They were crying, then I started crying,” Skibba said. “It was incredible.”

Incredible is the perfect word for what transpired here late Tuesday afternoon.

Middleton and Hartland Arrowhead engaged in an epic battle for the WIAA Division 1 state title. But for most of the day, the Warhawks kept the Cardinals at arms length.

Arrowhead still led by four shots with three holes to play. But over that stretch, Middleton made up a remarkable five strokes and won the title by one shot.

Middleton shot a season-low 310 on Tuesday’s final day and a 641 over the two-day tournament. That helped the Cardinals edge the Warhawks (642) and capture the second state title in school history.

Thirty minutes after Middleton’s dreams had become reality, the finish still seemed like a blur.

“It doesn’t even seem real,” Cardinals coach Becky Halverson said. “I knew they could do it, but it sure didn’t look good. But every single player was huge for us today. Everyone really played their hearts out.”

Middleton had a bevy of memorable performances.

Skibba, the 2014 individual champion, finished second this time with a 149, three shots behind Beaver Dam’s Ashley Kulka. Junior Alexis Thomas shot a 1-under-par 71 on Tuesday and finished fourth individually at 151.

Junior Morgan Miles carded a second-day 81 and tied for 27th overall. And sophomore Payton Hodson, the Cardinals’ No. 5 golfer, shot an important 84 on Tuesday.

“I’m just speechless,” Thomas said. “I really wasn’t paying attention to all the scores during my round. I was just concentrating on my own game. But right now, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.”

Arrowhead began the day with a 4-shot lead, but Middleton pulled within two after the front nine. The Warhawks stretched that lead to as many as five midway through the back nine before the Cardinals mounted their memorable charge.

The quartet of Skibba, Thomas, Miles and Hodson played the final three holes at 1-over-par. Arrowhead, on the other hand, played it at 7-over.

“Honestly, I don’t really feel that disappointed,” said Arrowhead senior Claire Lauterbach. “Middleton just played great and really finished strong. What are you going to do?”

Middleton surged to a 2-shot lead when Arrowhead No. 3 golfer Keaton Schmitz made a triple bogey at No. 18. The Warhawks closed back within one shot after their No. 2 golfer, Alexa Holland, made a birdie at No. 18.

That left it up to Skibba, who bombed a drive at No. 18 and knocked her approach shot to 10-feet. Skibba left her birdie putt just inches short, then tapped in for a state title.

Arrowhead’s Lauterbach also parred the hole, meaning the championship trophy was headed to Middleton.

“I could not ask for more,” Skibba said. “We’re such a tight knit group and it’s so great to leave on a high note.”

Middleton’s chances of leaving on a high were compromised following a rough second nine during Monday’s opening round.

Middleton shot a 156 on its first nine, seven shots better than any of the other 11 schools. But the Cardinals shot a 175 on the second nine and slipped to second place.

Arrowhead seized the first round lead at 327, while Middleton was second at 331. Milton (336), Verona (340) and Franklin (341) rounded out the top five.

“You can’t win state on day one, but you can lose it,” Halverson said. “Our goal was to be close after the first day and we are. The girls hung in there and we’re right in the hunt.”

Middleton would have been the hunted if it wasn’t for a rough second nine.

The winds intensified as the day wore on — and Middleton found itself on the wide-open front nine instead of the largely protected back nine. With the weather conditions worsening, the Cardinals struggled on their second nine and slipped to second.

“There were times when the wind was just swirling. You didn’t even know what direction it was going,” Halverson said. “But we’re right in it and that’s what we wanted.”

Skibba led the Cardinals with a 3-over-par 75 on the first day. Skibba had an eagle-3 at No. 16 and a birdie at No. 18 to make the turn at 2-under-par, 34. Skibba was 3-under-par through 14 holes, before shooting a combined 6-over in a three-hole stretch and finishing with a 75.

Thomas carded an 80, while junior Morgan Norowetz and Miles both shot 88s.

“Before we got here, we talked about playing well, but maybe not leading after the first day,” Skibba said. “That’s a lot of pressure. So I kind of like where we’re at.”

All of the Cardinals liked their position more and more as Tuesday’s second round unfolded.

Thomas picked the perfect time to fire her lowest round of the year. Thomas carded four birdies, three bogeys and was remarkably steady throughout.

“I knew I could play like this,” Thomas said.

Added Halverson: “She was just so focused out there. The whole day, she just stayed in her zone and didn’t let anything rattle her.”

Skibba was a model of consistency, making her final round as a Cardinal another terrific one.

“She wanted it so bad for the team,” Halverson said of Skibba. “Not once did she ask how she was doing as an individual. It was all about the team.”

Miles had a steady 81 that included three birdies on the front nine. And Hodson, who had a rough opening round, had 10 pars and a birdie in her round.

“They’re all just amazing,” Halverson said. “I really can’t believe it. I mean, I can but I can’t. The whole thing is incredible.”

Incredible is right — just like the 2015 state champion Middleton girls golf team.

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