This time, Emily Opsal and her Central College women's golf teammates took the road to Houston, Texas, that was full of dramatic views and hairpin turns.
But that made the return to Bay Oak CC for the 2019 NCAA Division III Championship next spring that much more memorable for the Verona native and the rest of the Dutch.
They survived a one-hole playoff with the University of Dubuque Sunday in the only golf played at rain-soaked Oneota G&CC in Decorah, Iowa, to win the first American Rivers Conference Championship and clinch their second NCAA berth in three years. The A-R-C is the former Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which required a name change after Nebraska Wesleyan was admitted to the league starting with the 2018-19 season.
Rain forced the cancellation of the final round and a reduction of the conference championship from 72 to 54 holes. The first 36 holes had been played the previous weekend at Pheasant Ridge GC in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
"Everyone was pretty nervous, but at the same time was excited to try and earn the win," Opsal wrote in a text message to Wisconsin.Golf of Central's playoff with Dubuque — and former Mineral Point golfer Madison Bowers — after Dubuque edged Central 331-332 in Saturday's third round to catch the Dutch at 980.
"It was crazy to be in a dead time after 54 holes, but we wanted it and had to find a way to play through the nerves."
Central (327-321-332) played the par-5 1th hole at Oneota in even-par to win the championship by two shots over the Spartans (327-322-331). The results also served as a tie-breaker for medalist honors with Central senior Brittany Coppess (80-76-75) edging Dubuque's Daniela Miranda (74-70-77) after they ended regulation tied at 231.
"It came down to me and (Coppess) parred (the hole) and the other two bogeyed, so that sealed it," Opsal wrote. "(Coppess) was also competing for the individual title and made a super clutch putt, which I followed up by making my par putt. I felt like we had more energy and momentum going for us."
Opsal, who played on Verona's WIAA Division 1 state runner-up team in 2013 and its state championship team in 2014, shot 78-77 on opening weekend and was one shot behind Miranda in a tie for second with nationally ranked Brooke Klosterman of Wartburg. Her 86 in Saturday's third round in Decorah was one of two Central counted behind Coppess' 75 and an 85 from Rachael Danielson.
Defending champion Wartburg struggled to a 336-335-329 and finished third at 1000, 20 shots out of the playoff. That left the NCAA berth to be decided by Dubuque, which got a 10th-place showing from Mineral Point's Bowers (84-84-82), and Central.
"We were tense during it, and after there was a ton of excitement and relief," Opsal wrote. "There were definitely some tears from some of the girls as we finally could relax and be excited about our achievement. We also had a super awesome welcoming party when we got back on campus so we really felt recognized and important."
And now the Dutch can look forward to going back to Bay Oaks, where they shot 336-332-337 in 2017 and missed the 54-hole cut by 12 strokes.
"Winning conference again this year was extremely special for our team," Opsal wrote "Two years ago, we took the title but we had a more experienced team and a little more depth. We lost a few key seniors last year so we really depended on the freshmen to put up some solid scores. Our top three are all juniors or seniors, and we all improved enough to help lead the team to a win.
"It's so nice to feel all our hard work and strong team bond pay off, and we are super excited to head back to Bay Oaks it's a super fun course!"