AMERY, Wis.-- It didn’t take long for Middle Border Conference girls’ golf teams to jump into competition after the start of the golf season was pushed back a week by the WIAA.

Seven of the eight MBC teams were joined by Grantsburg at the Amery Invitational Friday, Aug. 21, just four days after the official first day of practice across the state. The girls’ golf season was supposed to start Monday, Aug. 10, but was delayed a week by the WIAA due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

The New Richmond Tigers got off to a strong start with a second place team score of 366, five strokes behind first place Prescott, and Somerset took fourth with 433 while St. Croix Central kept its varsity home but got a total of 473 from its JV squad.

Prescott’s Ava Salay earned medalist honors with a one-under par 71 and Lanie Veenendall of New Richmond was second with 76 while Ava Pesha of Somerset was third with 90.

New Richmond’s top four players all stayed in double digits to help the Tigers claim second place. In addition to Veenendall’s 76, Abbie Ritzer carded a 94 and Nora Harris and Kailey Stephens each shot 98.

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Somerset coach Dennis Potter said Pesha showed a lot of poise to shoot 90 after opening with an 8 on the first hole.

“She didn't let that dictate her play the rest of the way,” Potter said. “At another point, she was given a two-stroke penalty for teeing her ball in front of the tee markers. I was very proud of how she handled that little setback. One hole later, she scored a birdie. When the going gets tough, she digs deep.”

Potter said Isa Fagan, who finished 20th in the 40-player field with a 110, has worked hard all summer to improve her game.

“She shows up to practice extra early and stays late,” he said. “And she had flashes of great golf today. Her drives were excellent.”

As were the drives of Mandy Baillargeon, who carded a round of 116.

“She drove the ball so far on a couple holes that I was afraid she would hit into the group in front of her,” Potter said.

Briley Olson shot a 117 to round out the Spartans’ team total while Cameron Parodies finished with 121.

Potter pointed out the Spartans are a very young team this year with no seniors, and lost their top two golfers from last year to graduation, including state qualifier Haley Myers. He said the team had two goals going into Friday’s season opener -- have fun and improve -- and accomplished both.

“I saw some really encouraging things today,” he said. “Many of our players can hit a drive. Where we struggle a bit is on the green. We had a lot of putts today. I see lots of room for improvement, and the encouraging thing is that the players are up to the challenge. They want to get better, and we will get better. So I'm encouraged for the upcoming season.”

Central eyeing state return

St. Croix Central coach Logan Kimberly said the Panthers are looking to get back to state this year after a third place Division 2 showing in 2019, but with growing numbers in the program she decided to keep her varsity home from Friday’s season opener to give the younger players a chance to shine.

“With 22 girls out for golf, we need to maximize course time with all of our girls, so we sent two JV teams to compete in that event,” she said.

Janessa Olson was the top Panther finisher at Amery, tying for 20th place with a 110.

Central returns three letterwinners from last year’s state-qualifying team, including junior Sally Vangness, who earned All-MBC First Team honors and placed sixth at state a year ago.

After finishing third in the MBC team standings in 2019 behind New Richmond and Prescott, and second to Prescott at both regionals and sectionals, the Panthers placed third at state behind Madison Edgewood and Prescott.

Kimberly said she’s been trying to build a consistent program since taking over as Panthers’ coach in 2017, and looks for that to continue this season.

“Our participant numbers have been above 20 for the past three years, and with the large number of players our talent level has begun to rise as well,” she said. “Our goals for this year would be similar to last year-- compete as a consistent top-three team in conference, and then make it back down to state as a team.”