KOHLER — Ava Salay was far too busy trying to avoid being lifted from the blustery fairways of the Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run and blown into Lake Michigan to spend any time in deep reflection about the historical significance in what she and the Prescott girls golf team had accomplished Tuesday afternoon.
The Cardinals became the first public school to win a WIAA Division 1 state girls golf title and they did it in such storybook fashion that the pursuit proved as rewarding as the prize.
Prescott won the Div. 2 team championship with a 27-hole, four-player score of 560, 19 strokes less than @PrairieSchool was the runner-up with a score of 579. Two-time former defending champion @EHSCrusaderGolf finished 3rd with a 580. #wiaagolf pic.twitter.com/MuNNcopGSm— WIAA State Tournaments (@wiaawistate) October 13, 2020
They began the final round with a six-shot lead. But at one point Tuesday, they trailed Edgewood (Madison) by two and another time The Prairie School (Racine) had rallied to tie. Prescott fended off both of them.
Salay bogeyed her final four holes to shoot 84 and, at 18-over-par 126, finish runner-up for the second year in a row. However, any sadness the sophomore felt over coming up one shot short of Appleton Xavier senior Lauren Haen (78-125) vanished as soon as Salay became enveloped by her teammates all too eager to celebrate the title.
Sophomore Rhi Stutz shot 86 and Prescott counted a pair of 102s (from No. 5 golfer Maddie Reiter and No. 3 golfer Liz Rohl) in their 374 team score to give the Cardinals a 560 total and 19-shot victory.
“It was a lot of mixed emotions,” Salay said of the moments after missing a 10-foot putt for birdie on the final hole that would have forced the battle for medalist honors to go to a playoff. “I was obviously a little upset that I didn’t win. But I was overcome by happiness that our team won.
“I don’t think anything could take me away from that.”
There was nothing mixed about her father Chad’s emotions. The Cardinals coach had to collect himself before talking about the impact this title would have on the 4,276 people of Prescott.
“It’s awesome for the community,” said the elder Salay, whose team was sent off to Kohler with a fire-truck parade through town and will probably be welcomed home with a celebration 10 times as large. “We haven’t won a WIAA-sponsored championship since the 1970s for a girls sport. It’s been a long time coming and then to win the first girls golf title for a public school, that’s unbelievable. Our hashtag is #beapartofhistory and this is going to be historic for this team and this program forever. It’s incredible that we’re going to be that team.”
This year, The Prairie School and Edgewood – two private schools that have combined to win 16 of the 17 state titles since the WIAA went to two divisions in girls golf – waged a tense battle for the runner-up trophy. Sophomore Sophia Lawler, who spent a large chunk of the day in the lead, finished with an 87 as the Prairie Hawks held off an Edgewood charge and escaped with a 579 total – a single shot ahead of the Crusaders.
“This young inexperienced team of young women have been so fun to watch develop into a competitive team,” Prairie School coach Carrie Massey said. “Conditions were challenging to players with experience so to see this team rise to the challenge makes me even prouder.”
For Edgewood, its third-place finish marked the end of its two-year reign as state champion. In addition, the Crusaders, who have won a record 15 WIAA state titles, left a state tournament without a gold or silver trophy for the first time since 2000 when they finished third in a single-division format, ending a streak of 18 straight years of first- or second-place finishes.
"It was definitely different this year," said Edgewood senior Grace Jaeger, whose sixth-place finish was tops on her team. "Going into (Tuesday), I really thought we could do it. I knew from the past; we've been down before and we've been able to come back. I had faith in us and we were really positive.
"But there are some good teams this year. And congrats to them. I'm really happy for them. Maybe next year; we'll see what happens with Edgewood."
Individually, Haen’s victory came as a shock to the Appleton Xavier senior.
After a 47 Monday in her weather-shortened Monday round, she shot a 78 Tuesday. She posted the score early and was in sixth place individually when she took the 5-minute shuttle ride from the ninth green back to the clubhouse. There, she waited more than two hours before learning that Salay had faltered down the stretch and that she would become her school’s second state champion, joining international student Claire Phukamad, who won the state title in 2018.
“I had no idea,” Haen said. “I hoped second place could happen, but first place, I just never expected that. We just all started crying immediately. I worked so hard to get here and it has finally paid off.”