Lauren Ambrookian knows how it might look, that — when it came to determining that UW-La Crosse would be a great place to play college golf — she and Hamilton (Sussex) teammate Claire Kelbel became something of a package deal.
But that's not exactly how it happened, according to Ambrookian.
"Although Claire and I decided to commit to the same college on the same night (Dec. 21) for the same sport," Ambrookian wrote in an email interview with Wisconsin.Golf, "we both picked UW-La Crosse because it was the best fit for us personally."
For Ambrookian, she was drawn to La Crosse by its diagnostic medical sonography emphasis in its Radiologic Science program. The Chargers senior gained attention in helping Hamilton to a WIAA Division 1 state runner-up finish last fall, eventually received five offers and ultimately chose La Crosse over St. Catherine University, another NCAA Division III school in St. Paul, Minn.
For Kelbel, her interest in getting a degree in Radiation Therapy aligned well with La Crosse, which not only offers that major but an internship program within it that will prepare her for the certification test. Kelbel wrote that La Crosse was her final campus visit and, after getting a taste of the women's golf program from coach Dave Taebel and some of his golfers, it didn't take long for her to choose the Eagles over Concordia-St. Paul and Lake Superior State (Mich.), both Division II schools.
"Meeting with Coach T and the team had a huge impact on my decision," Kelbel wrote in an email interview with Wisconsin.Golf. "After talking about the season and the team dynamic they have, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. My major ... is a very specific major that not many schools offer. Thankfully, UW-L does and that is what really set it apart from the other schools I was looking at.
"I am a student before I am an athlete and completing my studies is my first goal."
Taebel, who has already secured a verbal commitment from Onalaska's Allison Balduzzi, is now adding a pair of golfers who are fairly accomplished at balancing golf with school.
Both Ambrookian and Kelbel earned academic all-state honors from the Golf Coaches Association of Wisconsin this past fall. Both were also honorable mention on the GCAW all-state team for their work on the golf course.
Kelbel shot 78-84 at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison and finished T-20 at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament while Abrookian shot 85-81 and finished T-28. The state tournament appearance was the first in program history for the Chargers, who had a top-10 finisher in junior Kayla Johnson (T-10) and another top-25 finisher in University of Dubuque-bound Leah Balsbaugh (T-25) in finishing seven shots behind Westosha Central to earn the state runner-up trophy.
Their state showings capped a year of steady improvement for both golfers, who helped Hamilton improve from a seventh-place WIAA regional finish in 2019 to a third-place regional showing in 2020 to sectional championship in 2021, edging out perennial powers Brookfield Central and Arrowhead (Hartland) on their way to state.
Leading into the high school season, they both fared well on the X Golf Milwaukee County Parks Tour, each winning two events. Ambrookian, who didn't start playing golf until her sophomore year in high school, captured events at Currie Park GC (74) and Whitnall Park GC (80) while Kelbel prevailed at Greenfield Park GC (80) and Oakwood Park GC (77).
After finishing 53rd at the WPGA Junior Championship (99-95) to start the summer, Ambrookian ended it with a 41st-place finish at the Sherri Steinhauer (86-89) in her final event before the start of the WIAA season. Kelbel, who finished T-28 at the Sherri Steinhauer (82-88), finished 24th in stroke-play qualifying at the Wisconsin Junior Girls Championship and advanced two rounds into the match-play portion of the event in First Flight before falling to Adalyn Johnson of Green Bay in 20 holes in the semifinals.
"I have many golf-related goals (at La Crosse)," Kelbel wrote. "I would like to attend nationals at some point and also try to just make a difference on the team. I would also like to improve my game and I think Coach T will definitely be able to help me achieve these goals."
Ambrookian added: "I believe that I will fit into this team very well because of its close dynamic. I am very social and if you put me with a group of girls, I will be friends with them in no time! I am encouraging of others and I believe it will make a positive impact on the team."
Athletically, they will be joining a program that twice finished runner-up to UW-Whitewater in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship during 2021. The 2020-21 WIAC Championship was pushed into the spring portion of the schedule by the COVID-19 pandemic before it returned to its traditional fall dates in October.
Academically, the school checked all the boxes for both golfers, which wasn't easy given their intended fields of study. While both golfers arrived at their decisions independently, they saw it as perhaps a sign that two friends with such focused degrees would discover opportunities on and off the golf course at the same school.
"Claire definitely played a role in me being confident with my decision and we were both ecstatic to be able to play on the same team," Ambrookian wrote. "Playing a college sport with your best friend is something that is very special, but neither of us had a major impact on one another" in making their college decisions final.
Kelbel added: "(It just) made me more excited. Getting the chance to play college golf with your best friend is definitely a dream come true."