REEDSBURG — There were a lot of "what-ifs" in UW-Whitewater's journey to its latest Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship, but the one coach Andrea Wieland couldn't imagine Sunday as her Warhawks hoisted the trophy for the third year in a row at Reedsburg Country Club was this:
What if CheyAnn Knudsen hadn't transferred from Carthage College after her freshman year and become the catalyst of Whitewater's remarkable run?
For the second year in a row, the Warhawks senior played the role of closer at the WIAC Championship to a tee after a couple bumps in the road on the way there. Knudsen shook off the second-round 83 she finished Sunday morning — a score that didn't even factor into her team's 314 morning total — by firing a 2-over-par 73 during the afternoon to help Whitewater close out an eight-stroke victory over UW-Stout on a long and record-setting final day.
After going to sleep Saturday evening two shots behind the Blue Devils when storms forced a suspension in play with nine holes to go in the second round, the Warhawks regained a six-stroke edge by finishing off a 314 early Sunday behind senior Kelly Storti's 76. All five Whitewater golfers broke 80 in the afternoon, led by Knudsen's 73, to finish off a 54-hole total of 933 and break the WIAC Championship scoring record for the second time in three years — this time eclipsing the 942 it set in 2017 and matched in winning a year ago.
"I told her 'We need you,'" Wieland said of Knudsen, who also played for her at Milton High School before Wieland took the Whitewater job in 2016. "We dropped her score in that middle round. I'm like 'Take it low.' And she's like 'I got this.' I know I can trust her with that."
Knudsen responded with four bogeys, two birdies and 12 pars in yet another unflappable final-round performance. A year ago, Knudsen followed up an 80-78 start with a closing 75 that helped Whitewater top Stout by 12 strokes.
"(Saturday) night, we talked about it's just halftime and I kind of took that personally," said Knudsen, who also won the WIAC Championship two years ago in her first year at Whitewater. "The first 11 holes, they were not going well. I was having a hard time in the rough. The rain was getting to me.
"I took the halftime I needed and I just played strong (Sunday). I just played aggressive. I went for the pins, but I was hitting irons really, really well."
Knudsen's comeback left her alone in third place with a 232 total — six shots behind winner Trystin Kluess of Stout. Kluess finished off a 76 in the morning and then fired a 1-over 72 in the afternoon — the second-lowest final-round in tournament history — to finish with a WIAC record 226 total for 54 holes, one stroke better than the 2009 winning score of UW-Eau Claire's Katie Maurer .
"It probably would have been nicer if the team would have won; I would have taken that over the individual," Kluess said after finishing four shots ahead of teammate Madison McCambridge and becoming just the second Stout golfer to win a WIAC title and the first since current Madison Memorial coach Britt McNett-Emmerich (2012). "I'm proud of how everyone fought and, myself, how I fought. I kept my head focused and put up a good number."
The Blue Devils' 307 in the final round was the second-best 18-hole score in school history and the program's best in any round at a WIAC Championship. Their 941 total was a program best in this event for the third year in a row (it also bettered Whitewater's previous tournament record) and left several mathematicians gathered around the scoreboard to wonder aloud what if Stout offered Civil Engineering and Markie Ash hadn't transferred from Menomonie to UW-Platteville after spending her freshman year at Stout?
Statistically, her 79-74-80 line — good for a share of fourth place with Ashley Hofmeister of Whitewater, giving 2019 WIAC coach of the year Howie Samb three current or former golfers in the top five — would have counted in Stout's score each round (assuming she would have bumped freshman Klairissa O'Reilly-Dye out of the No. 5 spot) and lowered the Blue Devils' total to 933 to match Whitewater and trigger the first playoff in WIAC Championship history. Emotionally, of course, it's impossible to tell how playing in the back of the lineup on a team in the thick of the title chase would have compared to Ash as the No. 1 golfer on a Platteville team she helped boost from last place in 2018 to fifth in 2019.
"I thought about that when I went up (to the scoreboard)," Wieland said of seeing Ash, who shared the 36-hole lead with McCambridge, so prominent on the leaderboard. "I mean (Ash) played really well that middle round. When (I heard) this summer that she was transferring, that was a game-changer to me, because I knew she was going to get better. She's a good player."
Then again, there are a lot of them in the WIAC these days.
Even in the euphoria of her team's record-setting victory, that point was not lost on Hofmeister, the last surviving member of the Warhawks team from 2016 when she won the WIAC title as a freshman but her team placed third.
"It's incredible how far this conference has come since I was a freshman," Hofmeister said. "Looking back, four years (ago), the competition has gotten just so much better. It's really cool to see how much we've grown — not just our team, but the other teams as well. Having that competition is so fun."
On that matter, there were no (what) ifs, ands or buts about it.