MADISON — Chad Salay and his Prescott girls golf team were newbies to the WIAA state tournament this week, but the Cardinals coach knew the drill Tuesday when it came to handing out praise after the Division 2 awards.
Tip your cap to Madison Edgewood and look ahead to next year.
Prescott became the 10th different school to finish second to the powerhouse Crusaders, who rolled to their 15th WIAA state championship on a cold, cloudy and increasingly breezy day at University Ridge Golf Course. In winning its 13th Division 2 state title, Edgewood shot a final-round 355 to finish off a 71-stroke victory over the Cardinals, who held off Middle Border Conference rival St. Croix Central by 17 strokes to walk away with the runner-up trophy.
It marked only the second time in their 15 triumphs at University Ridge that Edgewood won with a score greater than 700. However, it was also only the fifth time that a Crusaders championship team included the state medalist.
Senior Grace Welch closed out a wire-to-wire victory with a final-round 82 and a 14-over-par 158 total, giving her an eight-shot victory over Prescott's Ava Salay (85). Osseo-Fairchild/Fall Creek senior Ariel Heuer, who spent the last three years on the Fall Creek boys team, finished another shot back at 167.
"I followed Grace back (as a freshman) and it's been fun to see her get over the hump and win the state title," Chad Salay said of Welch, who had two third-place finishes and a fifth over the last three years. "I would've like to have had my player win, but (Welch) has been so close. I'm happy for her."
Welch checked all the boxes for a successful week except one: She didn't break 80 both days, firing a pair of 41s that featured two double-bogeys, seven bogeys and just one birdie on a course with challenging hole locations and fast greens on a day that began with a 30-minute lightning delay.
Welch, who began the day with a five-shot lead on Ava Salay, stretched it to eight by the turn despite three bogeys and one double on the front. The UW-Green Bay recruit played her first six holes on the front nine in 2-over and never looked back, as only two other golfers finished within 10 shots of her.
"I'm a little upset I didn't break 80 both days, but I have no reason to really be upset when my team pulled through and we won and I got to win the individual title," said Welch, who felt the confidence she gleaned from three previous trips to state thrust her to the top this time. "This year, it was more realistic that I could win it. I was much more confident this year than I was in year's past. I think I'm a different golfer than I was last year at this time.
"Going into state this year, I had a better feeling I could pull through with it."
Likewise, her teammates didn't panic even though conditions were tougher and their winning score 43 shots higher than the one they posted in 2018.
The Crusaders were the only team among the six in the Division 2 field to have all five golfers break 100 both days. On Tuesday, they counted an 88 from junior Caitlyn Hegenbarth, a 91 from senior Anaka Leske and a 94 from junior Grace Jaeger, tossing out a 95 from freshman Allyssa Thao as all five Edgewood golfers finished among the top 20 in the 39-player field.
"It was survival mode, for sure, from start-to-finish," Edgewood coach Peggy Gierhart said. "The weather was cold. The course played difficult. And the greens were super-fast. It was sort of a different mentality for them. They were kind of protective and they really needed to start to loosen up and play more aggressively against the wind and things like that. It worked out well.
"They hung in there and you just can't have the same par in your mind then. You have to think that bogeys and double (bogeys) are sometimes a good score, which is how it was — especially on the last nine here (Tuesday)."
That was among the many things Prescott learned in its first trip to state.
Like Edgewood, the Cardinals graduate their No. 1 golfer in Alexis Fredericks. But they bring back five other girls who made the trip to Madison — led by Ava Salay, who earned Middle Border Conference player-of-the-year honors.
"We've looked at that," Salay said. "The thing is, Edgewood is going to come back. They're going to rebuild. They're always there. We're just looking at hopefully a long run of a good rivalry with them. It'll be fun next few years.
"Next few and beyond because we've got some young girls playing, too."