MADISON — When her work was finished Tuesday at University Ridge Golf Course and Kylie Walker could finally celebrate a job well done, the sophomore opened up the Westosha Central playlist and revealed the song that put the Falcons in the right mood to win their first WIAA Division 1 state girls golf championship.
"We listen to 'Raise Your Glass,'" Walker said, referring to Pink's 2010 party anthem. "That's like our song so we listen to it every, single time before and after a tournament. That's kind of been our song all season.
"And it's worked."
Never moreso than Tuesday, when the three sophomores, one junior and one senior rolled into University Ridge — music cranked, windows down — and stared down two of the most dominant programs in the 50-year history of this event, held off another upstart and raised more than a glass when they were done.
The Falcons hoisted the gold trophy for the first time in program history after shooting 319 during the final round and, with a 36-hole total of 637, holding off Hamilton (Sussex) by seven strokes to top the Division 1 competition.
Stevens Point junior Riley Pechinski turned the race for medalist honors into something of a rout after shooting a 2-under-par 34 on her inward nine (the front nine) to shoot 1-under 71 and easily outdistance Norah Roberts of Union Grove (71) and Appleton North's AJ Powell (74) for top honors.
History says this combination of winners could not have been more unlikely than the ones that Tuesday's drama on another cool, cloudy and occasionally misty day produced. Westosha Central is the first school among today's collection of Southern Lakes Conference schools to win a state girls golf championship and Pechinski is only the second from what is now the Wisconsin Valley Conference to prevail individually.
"Just their perseverance all year," Westosha Central coach Ryan Dahl said, when asked to explain what set this team apart on its way to the top. "Just being able to come back from bad situations. I mean our No. 4 golfer (Chloe Brown) went triple-triple (bogey) on Nos. 10 and 11 and I get her (aside) and say 'OK, let's do something crazy.' And she goes and hits it to six feet (on the par-3 12th hole) and makes birdie."
Brown's 86 was the final counting score for the Falcons, who rode a 75 from Kylie Walker, a 76 from Katelyn Walker and an 82 from Elle O'Reilly to victory. It marked the third time in as many legs of the WIAA's postseason that the same four golfers accounted for Westosha Central's teams score — allowing Dahl to toss senior Carly Lois' 102 — and, to think, only the Walker twins had state experience coming into the week.
"I came back and I was very consistent; shot the same score (a 76) and I'm happy with that," Katelyn Walker said amid the buzz of her team's post-round celebration on the 18th green. "And my teammates, I'm just so surprised. They did way better than I expected for their first time being at state."
Indeed, Westosha Central might be the most surprising Division 1 state champion since Waunakee way back in 2010. The Warriors had never finished higher than sixth in two state appearances before their victory and Westosha Central's state tournament resume was every bit as light (two 11th-place showings 20 year ago).
In fact, the Falcons had just won two 18-hole competitions on regulation-sized courses this fall before they arrived at University Ridge. They won the Southern Lakes Conference by three strokes over Union Grove and, a few weeks earlier, won the Mukwonago Invitational at Morningstar Golfers Club in Waukesha by nine strokes over Hamilton (Sussex) in what turned out to be a sneak preview of Tuesday at University Ridge.
Matching Middleton, a program going for its third straight state title, shot-for-shot in Round 1 ultimately gave Westosha Central all the confidence it needed to finish the job. Maybe too much confidence.
"We were all cheering and partying (at the hotel) and we just told each other 'We're going in (Tuesday) and we're going to win this thing,'" Kylie Walker said. "We had a lot of confidence going into this. I'm kind of surprised our over-confidence, y'know, didn't come for us. But I think a little bit of confidence helps us."
The proof was on their scorecards, which projected onto the scoreboard.
Kylie Walker birdied four of her first eight holes — even-numbered holes only, though — and shot 3-under 33 on the front nine. By the time they reached the ninth tee, the Falcons had stretched their lead over Middleton to 12 strokes and nobody else threatened until Hamilton got within five on the back nine.
The Chargers' four scoring golfers all shot 84 or better, led by junior Kayla Johnson's 74. However, the Chargers settled for becoming just the 11th school to earn a trophy in its state tournament debut.
"These girls are resilient; they have learned to face adversity," said Hamilton coach Dan Heckman, who took over the varsity program late in the season after veteran coach Randy Howard was asked to resign. "They played great coming down the stretch. We had our hiccup at regionals. At sectionals, they got on a roll and we rolled right into Madison with that. So all the credit goes to these girls for being tough kids.
"Not only are there golf lessons, but life lessons here. No matter what these girls do, they'll handle adversity and be successful handling it."
Westosha Central's Dahl would like to think his golfers learned a little something about adversity, too, this postseason. In a way, the Falcons have Union Grove to thank, having finished second to them by seven strokes at both the Union Grove regional and last week's Westosha Central sectional in Kenosha.
"UG beat us at regionals and sectionals and we really wanted to get back at them," Katelyn Walker said, proud of how they took out third-place Middleton and fourth-place Brookfield Central — two programs with a combined 51 state tournament appearances — in one fell swoop as well. "Now we got everyone. ... I'm so excited. I feel like I'm in a dream. I told my teammates 'Someone wake me up.' I can't believe it."
This win was so unexpected Katelyn Walker didn't have a quick answer for where she, and her teammates would celebrate the win. She did have a quick answer — and a big grin — when she answered how.
"We're going to raise the glass," Katelyn Walker said.