Sarah Balding's reaction to being named the Golf Coaches Association of Wisconsin girls golfer of the year Monday was a lot like the day the Brookfield Central sophomore shot 68 to win the Greater Metro Conference championship.
"When I finished that round, I didn’t know what my score was (and) I didn’t know how I ranked compared to the other girls at conference," Balding said in an email interview with Wisconsin.golf. "I knew that I had played a great round of golf."
Similarly, Balding was so busy enjoying the journey from her first tee shot at a season-opening invitational in Barrington, Ill., to the final putt at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament to have any idea that her resume was the best of any in Wisconsin this fall, per the GCAOW committee tasked with making that determination.
Balding counted the Brookfield Central/Mequon Homestead Invitational and University Ridge Invitational among her other regular-season victories, but didn't win another tournament after her GMC victory at the Fairways of Woodside in Sussex. She shot 75 to finish second at the Franklin regional, 76 to finish third at the Brookfield Central sectional and 72-78 at the University Ridge, where she was the WIAA Division 1 state runner-up to repeat champ Jo Baranczyk of Bay Port.
"When I started my sophomore season, I was not thinking about the end result," Balding wrote. "I had personal goals and expectations for myself, but never really dwelled on them. I just went out each day and gave it my all. To be able to look back at what I accomplished is telling. I met most of my goals and for that to be acknowledged by others feels gratifying."
Balding led eight first-team honorees on the GCAOW all-state team. Others on the first team were: teammate Sami Krutz, Cedarburg's Elise Hoven, Wauwatosa East/West's Rachel Kauflin, Middleton's Kate Meier, Lake Geneva Badger/Williams Bay's Holly Murphy and WIAA Division 2 state champion Grace Welch of Madison Edgewood.
In what was regarded around the state as a major surprise, Baranczyk — a conference, regional, sectional and state champion — was dropped to the second team on the basis of "standardized scoring" criteria that weighs all parts of the season equally. Baranczyk struggled through the early part of the season before sweeping her way through the Fox River Classic Conference Championship and the three legs of the WIAA tournament series.
Joining her on the second team were: Waukesha Catholic Memorials' Meredith Boos, Pulaski's Sadie Kelley, Stoughton's Myranda Kotlowski, Prescott's Ava Salay, Glenna Sanderson and Oconomowoc's Grace Suter. Third-team honorees were: Oak Creek's Ellie Behring, Bay Port's Avery Dudra, Middleton's Ellie Frisch, Hudson's Paige Hillman, Stoughton's Caylie Kotlowski, Kettle Moraine's Julia Schilling and Franklin's Mallory Swartz.
Balding was "honored" to see her name ahead of the others, but insisted that wasn't her motivation as she made her way through the season.
"I feel proud of my season because I put a lot of work in during the off season," Balding wrote. "I practiced and worked towards my goals and that hard work paid off. I don’t like to compare myself to others, but rather compare myself to my goals and my game. I am constantly questioning how I can improve my game and develop into a better player. I do this by comparing where I am at now to where I was and where I want to be."