Chad Salay knew his Prescott girls’ golf team had a lot to look forward to prior to the start of the 2019 season, but did he know just how quickly his team would propel itself to new heights?
“We expected to have a good team,” Salay said, “but we definitely did not expect to have some of the early results we’ve had.”
After how things shook out during their first full week of competition, in which the Cardinals claimed two first-place plaques and a runner-up finish, the Cardinals are prepared to run into added success as the season progresses.
After winning the Baldwin-Woodville Invite at Pheasant Hills Golf Course in Hammond with a team score of 371 on Wednesday, Aug. 21, the Cardinals moved on to the Chi-Hi Invitational in Chippewa Falls on Thursday and recorded a program-best team score of 356 to win the invitational. All five varsity Cardinal golfers topped their former personal-best scores on Thursday and did so while competing against Division 1 schools such as Hudson, River Falls and Eau Claire Memorial.
“We certainly hoped to get there by the end of the season, but they’ve been ahead of where we hoped they’d be at at this point in the year,” Salay said. “We were hoping they’d be right around that 50-52 range by maybe midyear and then consistently 50 to maybe breaking 50 by the end of the year. So, it’s definitely been a pleasant surprise.”
The Cardinals were once again led by freshman Ava Salay who took second with a score of 75 after finishing with medalist honors at Monday and Wednesday’s meets. Hudson's Paige Hillman was the invite's medalist with her score of 74.
Coach Salay described Ava’s round at Chippewa Falls as a “bit of a roller coaster”. The freshman golfer chipped in for eagle on a par-five, got two birdies early and was 2-under par for the first two holes in what coach Salay called a “rocket-fueled” start.
“She also had some battles out there, but she mentally stayed in the game and didn’t let some of her tough holes get her down,” coach Salay said. “Ava is a newcomer to the team, but she’s been playing golf since she was 10 years old in high-level tournaments. Being in a new atmosphere at the high school level is still somewhat different, and we saw some deer-in-the headlights looks on Monday, but after that, I think she was just kind of like, ‘OK, I see how this works,’ and she was just able to fit in right away.”
Ava and senior Alexis Fredericks provided the Cardinals with a strong one-two punch again on Thursday when Fredericks took third overall with a score of 83.
“Alexis was just steady and played how we expected her to,” Salay said. “She’s going to plot along and not make a big mistake.”
On top of that, Liz Rohl and Lindsay Olson recorded scores of 99 while Jessica Heinsch followed close behind with a score of 100 to top Salay’s early-season goals for his team.
“Obviously we’re ecstatic,” Salay said. “The goal is to play your best golf at the end of the season, but to start like that and get the momentum going is huge. But it’s one of those things where we have to keep the girls in check a little bit as far as not getting too high — just like you would in a normal game of golf; don’t let the highs get you too high, and don’t let the lows get you too low.”
Salay and his golfers know it’s early and there’ll be times they’re met with adversity this season, which is why the next few weeks will be geared toward tending to what some would argue is the most challenging aspect of golf — remaining mentally resilient.
“There are going to be points in the season where we have tough times where we’re going to have to battle,” Salay said. “I know that’s coming, which is why we’re going to start working on the mental side of things.”
Ellsworth welcomes back varsity starters
The Ellsworth Panthers were without varsity starters Ruby Straub and Anna Sweere during their first Middle Border Conference meet on Monday, Aug. 19, but are expected to roll out their official varsity lineup at Monday’s meet in Somerset, which is set to begin at 9 a.m.
Straub made her season-debut at Ellsworth’s Golf Course for her team’s match play invitational on Thursday, Aug. 22.