HUDSON, Wis. -- Only one other player had a better score than Hudson’s Paige Hillman on the second day of the WIAA Division 1 Girls State Golf Tournament last year.

Hillman’s second round score of 75 allowed her to move up 17 spots and finish 14th in her first appearance at the state tournament at Madison’s University Ridge last October. Now she’s looking to build off that performance as she gets ready to begin her senior season.

“I was very motivated the second day because after the first day I was a little disappointed with how things went,” she said of her first-round score of 87. “I just knew I could do better, and then everything started coming together.”

After missing qualifying for the 2018 state tournament as a sophomore by two strokes, she bounced back last year to earn Big Rivers Conference Player of the Year honors before beating River Falls’ Hannah Harper on the second hole of a playoff at sectionals to earn the last of three individual state qualifying spots.

Hudson’s Paige Hillman checks her line before teeing off at the WIAA Division 1 Girls State Golf Tournament at University Ridge in Madison last October. File photo
Hudson’s Paige Hillman checks her line before teeing off at the WIAA Division 1 Girls State Golf Tournament at University Ridge in Madison last October. File photo

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Her first round score of 87 left her in 31st place before she shaved off 13 strokes on day two to finish with a two-day total of 162, 13 strokes behind repeat individual champion Jo Baranczyk of Bay Port, who’s 71 was the only second round score lower than Hillman’s 75.

Hillman went right back to work over the winter by working on her swing with the aid of a golf simulator in the family garage. After a delayed start this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, she played in a number of Minnesota PGA events this summer, including a 37th place finish at the Minnesota Women's State Open Ag. 10-11 at The Jewel GC in Lake City, Minn.

“It was just nice to get out of the house and be able to play golf again,” she said about her summer schedule.

It also helped get the attention of a number of college programs, and earlier this month she gave her verbal commitment to play for the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota.

“I talked to the coach Tavia (Rutherford) a couple of times on the phone and everything about it just felt good,” Hillman said. “We set up a visit and I met some of the girls on the team and I just really liked everything about it and what it had to offer.”

The University of Sioux Falls is an NCAA Division II school that already has five Wisconsin golfers on its 2020-21 roster, including former Hudson Raider Lexi Jonas and New Richmond’s Maggie Veenendall.

“They both said really good things about their golf program and school,” Hillman noted.

With her college decision behind her, Hillman said now she can focus on improving her game and helping her team during the high school season.

“This year there’s about 24 or 25 girls out,” she said. “We’re definitely getting more girls out every year. It’s going to be different this year with COVID, but we’re just trying to stay positive and try to get through it. And hopefully we can do well.”

Hillman said she doesn’t feel any pressure going into her senior season as the reigning BRC Player of the Year.

“It’s always good to know that, but I’m still going to work hard and just try my best, and hopefully it will happen again this year too,” she said.

Hillman and the Raiders are scheduled to kick off the season at the Rice Lake Invitational at Turtleback Golf Course on Tuesday, Aug. 25. Their first conference match is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 3, at Troy Burne.