The expectations have been adjusted somewhat, but the Stillwater girls’ golf team is returning to a familiar place next week when it competes in the Class AAA girls’ golf state tournament at Bunker Hills Golf Course.
Despite returning Erin Thiets, Anna Kaul and Amanda Wolf from the state lineup, the Ponies graduated the two biggest contributors (Cassie Deeg and Hailey Boner) who guided them to state bids each of the last four years. Alex Zeuli was also a key contributor for that team.
After placing in the top three the past three seasons, the Ponies have more modest expectations after slipping past runner-up Mahtomedi by two shots at the Section 4AAA tournament.
This marks the 13th trip to state for Ponies, who captured state championships under previous coach Mike O’Rourke in 1986 and 1987. Stillwater has finished second the past two years and placed third in 2010.
“I think if we can finish in that four-to-five range, I think that would be a realistic goal and a tremendous season,” said Ponies first-year head coach Nate Schwarz. “We’d like to finish in the top half.”
Edina and defending champion New Prague are considered the leading contenders for the state title.
The section tournament was held on May 28, so the Ponies will have had nearly two weeks to work on their game — and academics — before competing at state. That should pay dividends for a team that, like most in Minnesota, was hampered by a late start and generally poor weather conditions.
“It will be 13 days when we tee it up again and it’s been huge for us,” Schwarz said. “Just the way the season was set up, the last 13 days have been great. We’ve been able to meet with Chris and focus on some individual things, like the short game. The kids had 13 days to study and get finals done. They were able to study and feel good about finals and that won’t be hanging over them at state. I think they’re rested, especially mentally. I think they’re ready to go.”
Those wet conditions could also impact players while creating thick and heavy conditions in the rough, which is often a factor at Bunker Hills even in drier years.
“We have to drive the ball straight,” Schwarz said. “If you’re in the rough it’s tough, so you have to drive the ball straight and everything else will take care of itself.”
The Ponies have enlisted the help of StoneRidge golf professional Chris Peterson all season and he also worked with the players this week shoring up their short game and also sharing some thoughts about competing in big tournaments. Peterson should know after competing in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier in St. Louis on Monday.
“We have focused a lot on the short game the last 10 days or so,” Schwarz said. “We’ve been with Chris twice in the last week and he has shared his experiences and how he prepares for big tournaments.”
Katie Clark, Leah Kroening and Maddie Luoma will be making their state debuts for the Ponies, who don’t feature any seniors in their state lineup. Luoma sparked the Ponies at sections with an 83 that placed her third among all players in the tournament. Clark will be first off the tee for the Ponies starting at noon on the West Course.
Competing in a two-day tournament featuring the top players and teams in the state, Schwarz wants his players to maintain perspective and play within themselves.
“We’re going to make poor shots, but we’ve got to minimize the effect of the poor shot and save our putts around the green,” Schwarz said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, everybody is going to hit a bad shot at some point, but one bad shot is not going to take you out of the tournament. We don’t want shot A to effect shot B and C.”
Sicard, Anderson advance
The Stillwater boys’ golf team will be represented by sophomore Sammy Sicard and junior Evan Anderson at the state meet on Tuesday and Wednesday after they qualified as individuals.
The duo returns to Bunker Hills and each are hoping to pick up where they left off after contributing to a third-place finish for the Ponies in the Section 4AAA tournament.
Sicard birdied three of his last four holes at sections to qualify for state with a 74, which was just two shots behind medalist Matt Pitcher of team qualfier White Bear Lake. Anderson, meanwhile, survived a five-players-for-one-spot playoff with a birdie to advance to state after shooting a 75. That improbable birdie came after a wayward drive left him in a bunker on an adjacent hole.
The Ponies will each tee off on Tuesday at 8:42 a.m., with Sicard starting on the East Course and Anderson beginning on the West Course.