No shame in second for MHS golfers

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton senior standout Alexis Thomas finished second at the WIAA Division 1 girls state golf meet and led the Cardinals to a second place team finish, as well./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

When the postseason began, there were 103 WIAA Division 1 girls golf teams.

There were also just shy of 500 individual golfers competing in the playoffs.

When it all came to an end at the state tournament Tuesday afternoon, Middleton left picturesque University Ridge with a silver trophy for its second place finish. And Cardinals standout senior Alexis Thomas had a memorable two days and captured a second place individual finish.

Both Thomas — and her team — wanted better. Wanted more.

When they all paused for a second, though, considered the numbers and the competition, they realized the magnitude of their accomplishment.

“I think all of the girls are super disappointed,” Middleton coach Becky Halverson said. “But they’ve also got to be proud. A lot of people would love to be second.”

Middleton isn’t like a lot of people, though. And after winning the state title in 2015, the Cardinals were trying to become the first school to repeat as state champions since Homestead in 2010-’11.

But it would have taken a Herculean-effort to upend Hartland Arrowhead. The Warhawks shot a two-day score of 624, good for a 51-stroke win over runner-up Middleton.

Arrowhead’s 624 was the second-lowest score in state history, behind only Madison Edgewood’s 617 in 2008. And the Warhawks’ margin of victory was the largest in Division 1 since the WIAA went to two divisions in 2003.

“I’m so happy for them,” Arrowhead coach Mike Breaker said of his team. “This is just the best group of kids. They’re so supportive of each other and they get along so well. This was neat to see.”

A year ago, Middleton rallied past Arrowhead with a charge on the back nine and nipped the Warhawks by one shot for the title. But Arrowhead made sure there was little drama this time around.

“Hats off to Arrowhead,” Halverson said. “They played great. We had lofty expectations, but they just played better.”

For much of the tournament, no one was playing better than Thomas.

But the Cardinals’ senior standout struggled on the back nine Tuesday and settled for second.

Arrowhead sophomore Emily Lauterbach won the title with a 2-under-par, 142. Thomas, who shot an opening round 68, was second at 147.

Lauterbach’s two-day, 142, was the second-lowest Division 1 score in state history, behind only Milton’s Ashton Stair, who shot a 140 in 2010.

“Arrowhead’s a great team and they played great,” said Thomas, a North Dakota State recruit. “We still got second and that’s something we should be really proud of.

“We had a lot of adversity this season and we got through it all. So second is still pretty great.”

Indeed it was. In fact, over the last four years, Middleton now has a state title, a runner-up finish and two third place showings.

The 2016 Cardinals believed a state title was in their future. Despite several obstacles throughout the year, Middleton had finished first in 15 of its 17 outings this season.

The Cardinals also squared off with the Warhawks twice, with each team prevailing once.

But Arrowhead took all of the suspense out of the team tournament with a scintillating first round.

The Warhawks shot a 308 — the lowest nine-hole total in state history — and built a 26-shot lead over second-place Middleton.

Since the state tournament went to two divisions in 2003, the largest lead any Division 1 school had after the opening round was 10 shots. The average lead was 3.1 strokes.

But during the opening round, Arrowhead blistered those margins, then ran away and hid from the rest of the Division 1 field.

As Middleton headed back to the course Tuesday, it knew the odds catching Arrowhead were extremely long.

“We came into the day hoping to play our best and somehow just trying to get back into it,” Middleton senior Lindsay Callahan said. “We wanted to try hard for all of our seniors.”

Arrowhead made sure no one would mount a charge, by posting a rock solid 316 on the second day. And immediately, all eyes turned to the individual title chase.

Thomas had put herself in sensational shape with a memorable first day, in which her 68 tied the lowest single round score in state history.

“My goal at the start of the year was to break 70 at state and have a chance to win it,” Thomas said. “That was a great day.”

Indeed.

Thomas began on the back nine, then birdied three of her first seven holes and made the turn at 3-under-par, 33. Thomas moved to 4-under with a birdie at the par-5, second hole. After a bogey at No. 4, Thomas made four straight pars, then birdied the par-5 ninth hole for her brilliant 68.

“Alexis has meant so much to us,” Halverson said. “She’s not just a great golfer, but a great leader. She had an amazing round.”

Unfortunately for Thomas, she couldn’t repeat that magic Tuesday.

Thomas shot a 1-over-par, 37, on the front nine Tuesday. Lauterbach, playing one group ahead of Thomas, carded a 35 and the two headed to the back nine deadlocked at 3-under-par.

Thomas began struggling with her putter, though, and after 13 holes, Lauterbach had grabbed a four-shot lead. Lauterbach made a triple bogey at No. 14, allowing Thomas to pull within one shot.

But Lauterbach played the final four holes in 1-under par. Thomas, on the other hand, couldn’t recapture her Monday magic and shot 42 on the back nine.

“I had a lot of downhill putts,” Thomas said. “And if I missed them, the greens are so fast that I left myself a tough putt coming back.

“I tried to stay in the moment and tried to be aggressive. But it just didn’t work out.”

Still, Thomas’ performance tied for the third-best in school history.

Both Loren Skibba (2014) and Lindsey Solberg (2006) won state titles. Skibba was also runner-up in 2015, while Solberg finished second in 2007.

“It was a great year and a great four years,” Thomas said.

Middleton junior Payton Hodson finished in a tie for 30th place with a 171, while freshman Kate Meier was 33rd at 174. Senior Morgan Miles tied for 47th at 183 and Callahan tied for 53rd at 185.

“This will be one of my favorite experiences,” Callahan said. “It was a great experience. We were hoping for first place, but this isn’t too bad either.”

That’s for sure.

“It was a great group of girls,” Halverson said. “We have nothing to hang our heads about.”

 

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