By STUART GROSKREUTZ – Stillwater Gazette
COON RAPIDS – The Ponies did their part to erase an 11-shot deficit on Wednesday, but New Prague was unwilling to cooperate with Stillwater’s comeback bid while hanging on to claim the Class AAA girls’ state championship at Bunker Hills Golf Course.
Stillwater turned in a score of 325 on Wednesday – a 19-shot improvement over their Day 1 total – for a score of 669 to overtake Wayzata (670) and Red Wing (673) and move into second place for the second year in a row. It was also the third consecutive top-three finish for the Ponies, who placed third in 2010. New Prague carried a four-shot lead over Red Wing and led Wayzata by seven strokes after the opening round, but nobody scored better than Stillwater on Wednesday.
"They played as well as they could," Ponies coach Mike O’Rourke said. "We needed some other things to happen for us to win, which would have been for New Prague to not play as well as they did the first day, but we got beat. It was not really that we beat ourselves that they deserved to win. They deservedly won the title and I think everyone was pleased we came back to finish second."
The improvement was across the board for Stillwater, which was led by a strong showing at the top from Cassie Deeg and Hailey Boner. Deeg shot 72 on Wednesday for a two-day total of 147 to place behind Cretin-Derham Hall’s Celia Kuenster (141) and McKenzie Neisen (143) of New Prague. Deeg shared the individual state title with Kuenster a year ago when both players shot 148 – one shot higher than Deeg’s score this year.
Deeg rolled in a 20-foot putt on the 18th hole to finish a remarkable prep career with a flourish. The birdie meant Stillwater didn’t have to share third place with Wayzata, which was the defending state champion.
"It felt really good," said Deeg, a University of Nebraska recruit. "I was just thinking on the green that this was my last hole of high school golf ever and I hit it and it felt really good.
"Obviously we wanted to win, but we only lost by seven and New Prague played really well so I think we’re OK with it. We beat Wayzata, who won last year, and Red Wing, which has been our rival all year long. The first day we didn’t play our best and we knew that, so all we could do today was try to play better and catch up and we did our best."
Boner, meanwhile, hit 12 fewer shots on Wednesday to finish with an even-par 73 – a significant improvement on her opening-round 85 to climb from 23rd into a tie for seventh in the individual standings, joining Deeg in earning all-state honors.
"Last night, I was really hard on myself, but we had a two-hour practice with the team (on Tuesday) and just told ourselves if we work hard we’ll be proud of ourselves. I just got a good night’s sleep and told myself that I’m a better player than that and I had to go out one last time and prove myself."
The North Dakota State University recruit could tell early on that Wednesday was going to be a better day.
"My first tee shot was really good and I was like, this is going to be good," Boner said. "Then I got on the green and three-putted because I was nervous and then the next hole I parred and then I got a birdie so I knew it was going to be good and it went my way."
Alex Zeuli, the third senior in Stillwater’s lineup who joined Deeg and Boner in completing their sixth seasons in the program. Zeuli also played better on Wednesday, shooting an 88 to improve by seven shots on Day 2.
Erin Thiets shot a 92 to complete the scoring for the Ponies, who were trying to win their first state crown since winning back-to-back titles in 1986 and 1987. Anna Kaul, who factored in the scoring on Tuesday, shot 99 on Day 2 and Amanda Wolf contributed a 104.
"What we said getting out of the van (on Tuesday) was you don’t win it on the first day, you win it on the second day," O’Rourke said. "We just said you don’t win it on the first six holes, you win it on the last 12 holes so just play steady the first six and let it happen and they did that. They came back 19 strokes, which is fantastic."
Deeg and Boner have been the top players for the Ponies each of the past six seasons and, along with Zeuli, aren’t the only ones turning the page after the completion of play on Wednesday as O’Rourke plans to retire after 32 seasons.
He’s been coaching long enough that the daughter (Taylor Krouse) of one of his former players (Beth Nelson) is a member of the first-place New Prague team.
"This is king of bittersweet," O’Rourke said. "It’s good to be done, but you’re going to miss a lot of the good times, too. With those three Cassie, Hailey and Alex, it was good to see them go out and finish their careers. It’s been a great six years with them and all the other players we’ve had."
The state meet marked just the third time in 17 events this season that Stillwater did not finish first. The others were a second-place finish at the season-opening Irondale Invitational (losing a scorecard playoff for first) and the Red Wing Invitational where the Ponies placed seventh.
"It was a fun season and we have great kids," O’Rourke said. "We showed (Wednesday) that the courses we play in our conference really help you in the state tournament. We were first in everything except the tie to start the season and seventh at Red Wing. No one in our conference has ever run the table like we did and we won the section by 36 shots and coming back 19 strokes on the second day at state, that’s the best way you can end it. They just left it all on the course and did everything they could so they have to feel really good about the year. Yeah, they wanted to win state, but they gave it their all and it wasn’t meant to be."
1. New Prague 333-328-661; 2. Stillwater 344-325-669; 3. Wayzata 340-330-670; 4. Red Wing 337-336-673; 5. Eastview 360-333-693; 6. Elk River 360-341-701; 7. Alexandria 354-358-712; 8. Blaine 363-359-722.
Top 10 (par 73-73-146)
1. Celia Kuenster (Cretin-Derham Hall) 72-69-141; 2. McKenzie Neisen (New Prague) 69-74-143; 3. Cassie Deeg (Stillwater) 75-72-147; 4. Sadie Martin (Elk River) 80-74-154; 5. Alex Schmid (Shakopee) 80-75-155; 6. Brianna Cullimore (Wayzata) 77-80-157; 7, tie, Hailey Boner (Stillwater) 85-73-158 and Sara Detlefsen (Eastview) 82-76-158; 9. Lexi Bollant (Buffalo) 77-82-159; 10, tie, Marisa Toivonen (Red Wing) 78-72-160 and Sierra Langlie (Andover) 79-81-160.
3. Cassie Deeg 38-37-38-34-147; 7. Hailey Boner 41-44-37-36-158; 60. Alex Zeuli 49-46-44-44-183; 60. Erin Thiets 45-46-48-44-183; 76. Anna Kaul 48-45-51-48-192; 87. Amanda Wolf 57-50-53-51-211.