Grace Welch, Madison Edgewood.jpg

Senior and UW-Green Bay recruit Grace Welch leads powerhouse Madison Edgewood.

MADISON — Madison Edgewood was less than two months removed from its first WIAA state girls golf championship when Grace Welch — the senior standout on its 2019 team — entered the world in December of 2001.

WIAA state champion dynasties

Sport School TItles Span
Baseball Sun Prairie 8 1974-2014
B Basketball Randolph 10 1998-2010
G Basketball Cuba City 11 1977-2015
B Cross country Milwaukee Riverside 16 1913-36
G Cross country Waukesha West 7 1993-2005
Football Fond du Lac Springs 8 2002-18
B Golf Madison West 15 1934-1995
G Golf Madison Edgewood 14 2001-2018
Gymnastics Whitefish Bay 12 1989-2019
B Hockey Superior 13 1971-2015
G Hockey River Falls 3 2009-2011
B Soccer Milwaukee Marquette 18 2000-2018
G Soccer Waukesha Catholic Memorial 11 2004-2019
Softball Stevens Point 9 1986-2016
B Swimming Madison Memorial 16 1980-2016
G Swimming Madison West 15 1973-1998
B Tennis Glendale Nicolet 26 1959-2006
G Tennis Glendale Nicolet 17 1975-2000
B Track & Field Whitefish Bay 18 1937-1962
G Track & Field Madison West 6 1975-1985
Rosholt 6 1989-2005
B Volleyball Kaukauna 9 1967-2015
Milw. Marquette 9 2002-2017
Waukesha 9 1951-1961
G Volleyball Waupun 11 1993-2008
Wrestling Wisconsin Rapids 21 1974-2012

The country was still recovering from Sept. 11. Private schools were in their second year as members of the WIAA (although WISAA girls golf teams had been afforded the right to compete in the WIAA tournaments for several years by that point). No school had won more than five WIAA state girls golf titles.

The Crusaders were the only team of the 14 in the field in what was then a single-division format to break 700 over 36 holes. They shot 697 and edged Middleton by eight shots to take home the team title that started it all.

Senior Taryn Rechlicz, now married, still living in Madison and the mother of two young boys, and junior Lindsay Koth, now a realtor in the area, led Edgewood with matching eighth-place finishes. Rechlicz's father, Mark, was the coach of that team and the one that became the first to win back-to-back the in 2002.

Fast forward to 2019. The 48th annual WIAA state girls golf tournament will tee off Monday at 9 a.m. — if a potential overnight frost lifts or stays away — with Madison Edgewood going after a milestone 15th state championship.

"It's been a lot of hard work on the part of the girls," said Edgewood coach Peggy Gierhart, who took over for Rechlicz in 2003 and has been the architect for 12 of the 14 state championships but remembers being a Crusaders golfer herself back in the mid-1980s when she was a teammate with Welch's aunt, Vicki, and there was no state tournament in which they could compete.

"This particular team doesn't play as much summer golf. It took a little while to realize what it takes to get to where they want to be. I think now they're really realizing that."

As they do, we should step back and realize that we have a dynasty in our midst.

It took Madison West 61 years to amass 15 gold trophies at the WIAA state boys golf tournament. (For years, the Regents were locked in a race with Columbus Upper Arlington — Jack Nicklaus' alma mater — near the top of the National Federation of State High School Associations' all-time list.)

It has taken the Madison Edgewood girls 18 years to collect 14 gold trophies, the last 12 coming in Division 2. Chew on those numbers for a minute.

The Crusaders' work over the last two decades has thrust their program into a league of their own within their sport and among elite company with some of the WIAA's greatest dynasties ever.

They have a long way to go to catch Glendale Nicolet's boys tennis program (26 state titles between 1959 and 2006). Or Wisconsin Rapids' wrestling program (21 state titles from 1974 through 2012). But they are drawing closer to seven other program that have won between 15 and 18 state championships — including Milwaukee Marquette's boys soccer program, which has won 18 state championships since joining the WIAA in 2000.

But, at the rate the Crusaders are going, they will get there in no time.

Edgewood has won 12 state titles over the 16 years since the WIAA went to multiple divisions in girls golf. Its average margin of victory (50.22 strokes) suggests many of them have been so-called gimmes, but consider that no other Division 2 school has qualified for the state tournament more than nine times (only six have made it to University Ridge more than five) and it speaks volumes that the Crusaders have managed to find enough talent to make it as a team 15 of 16 years.

Does it ever get old, I asked Welch after Edgewood rolled to a 52-shot victory over Osseo-Fairchild/Fall Creek at last week's Prairie du Chien sectional?

"No, I think it's a feeling that's always just joy," Welch replied. "We're proud of ourselves and the effort we put in, the work we put in. We know we deserve it, but at the same time it's really rewarding."

It should be for Welch, who has led an unprecedented climb for a girls golf dynasty that has seen — and done — just about everything.

She was a freshman in 2016, the year that Edgewood missed out on a state berth for the first time since 1997. Welch made it individually and took third.

The Crusaders got back to University Ridge in 2017 and finished second by 15 shots to La Crosse Aquinas, a team they'd beaten at the sectional by 11 shots. Welch shared the lead after 18 holes, closed with an 86 and placed fifth.

Last year marked Edgewood's triumphant return to the top of Division 2. The Crusaders placed three golfers in the top five led by Welch and Grace Jaeger, who tied for third, as their all-underclassman lineup won by 50 shots over Appleton Xavier — an experience that Welch will never forget.

"It was an amazing feeling," Welch said. "Coming up that ninth hole, my 18th hole, and seeing my team waiting there for me was just amazing."

Doing it again would not doubt give Welch the same sensation. Doing it as a state champion, individually, would make the program's 15th state title something really special — only four other titles have come with individual champions leading the way (Koth in 2002, Katie Elliott in 2003, Caroline Lake in 2013 and Tess Hackworthy in 2014).

"That would be an amazing way to end the season," said Welch, who will play at UW-Green Bay next fall. "I know in the back of my head that's attainable, the 15. It kind of puts some pressure on us, so I try to push it to the side a little bit. Now that it's coming up, I think it's within our reach."  

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