By STUART GROSKREUTZ – Stillwater Gazette
In contention while placing third in 2010 and second a year ago, the Stillwater girls’ golf team is hoping to take that next big step on Tuesday and Wednesday while making its fourth straight appearance in the Class AAA state tournament at Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids.
The Ponies have been ranked among the top teams in the state all season while finishing first in 14 of 16 tournaments – including competition against each of the leading contenders in what is a strong field of contenders. Stillwater’s only non-victories were a scorecard playoff loss to finish second at the season-opening Irondale Invitational and a seventh-place finish at the prestigious Red Wing Invitational.
"Well, I tell you what, it should be a good tournament," Stillwater coach Mike O’Rourke said. "I’d say there’s five pretty capable teams that shoot around the same scores."
Defending state champion Wayzata, which finished seven shots in front of the Ponies last year, joins Stillwater, Red Wing, New Prague and Eastview among those expected to contend for the top spot. Red Wing won the Class AA state championship a year ago before getting bumped into the large-school class.
The Ponies are led by Division I recruits Cassie Deeg and Hailey Boner, who have been Stillwater’s No. 1 and 2 players since they were seventh-graders.
Deeg, a Nebraska recruit, shared medalist honors at state with Cretin-Derham Hall’s Celia Kuenster a year ago and Boner, who will play golf at North Dakota State University next year, give Stillwater strength at the top of the lineup.
Wayzata took advantage of its depth to win a year ago despite posting just one round in the 70s and the 11 remaining rounds – eight of which counted toward the team scoring – were in the 80s, according to O’Rourke.
"We probably have the best 1-2 combination in the state and our depth has gotten better throughout the year," the coach said. "It should be fun because there are five teams that can shoot about the same scores and it’s all going to be how well you shoot on that day."
Stillwater showed off its depth while posting a 35-shot victory in the Section 4AAA tournament. Senior Alex Zeuli and ninth-grader Erin Thiets have been steady contributors behind Deeg and Boner while the Ponies have also benefited from tremendous improvement by remaining players Anna Kaul and Amanda Wolf.
"They’ve played pretty steady all year and we’re really impressed with the strides Alex made last year and she’s been really steady as a senior," O’Rourke said. "Erin has played some really good rounds. She’s still real young and her best years are yet to come, but she has the potential to be a really good player. You’re going to win with your three, four and five players.
"It should be a real fun tournament."
Lillehei to compete for Stillwater boys
The Stillwater boys’ golf team placed third at the Section 4AAA tournament, but junior Lars Lillehei finished in a three-way tie for individual honors to earn a spot in the state meet on Tuesday and Wednesday at Bunker Hills.
It has been an up-and-down season for Lillehei, but Ponies coach John Scanlon is confident the best is yet to come – not unlike last year when Drew Lynch surprised many by placing seventh after claiming medalist honors at the section tourney.
"The nice thing about Lars is that he’s a great darkhorse kind of candidate to be in the top 10," the coach said. "He started out really good this year and had a couple of really good tournaments, but had some ups and downs so he’s going to kind of blindside some people. He’s playing really well and he’s got a good game for Bunker. He’s fairly long, he hits a draw and he’s a good putter and chipper."