Sarah Balding continues to set a high bar among girls golfers in the Class of 2022, so much so that the gap between the Brookfield Central sophomore and the rest of Wisconsin's best in her class has grown considerably since July.
When Wisconsin.golf updated its Class of 2022 rankings in July, Balding was just beginning to show how far she had come after what now, by comparison, was a modest freshman season at Brookfield Central. She was coming off of top-15 finishes at the Lake Arrowhead Invitational and Wisconsin PGA Junior Championship, but the best was certainly yet to come for this rising star.
Balding shot 79-72 to finish third at the Sherri Steinhauer Invitational, a girls-only event played at Blackhawk Country Club in Madison and Pleasant View Golf Course in Middleton, and followed that up with a runner-up finish at The Morgan Stanley WPGA Junior Tour Championship, where she shot 74-75 at Washington County Golf Course. It set the tone for a sophomore season at Brookfield Central so good and so consistent that it made her a most worthy choice for Golf Coaches Association of Wisconsin girls high school player of the year.
Among the most prominent clips from her fall highlight reel: Victories at the Brookfield Central/Mequon Homestead Invitational, co-medalist honors at the University Ridge Invitational and a season-low 68 at the Greater Metro Conference Championship. That was good for a one-shot win over Wauwatosa East/West senior Rachel Kauflin and a three-shot margin over the Central Michigan recruit in the season-long GMC player of the year competition.
To cap it off, Balding shot 72-78 at the WIAA Division 1 state championship and finished second to Bay Port junior Jo Baranczyk at University Ridge. The annual fall finale is also the last measuring stick of the year for golfers like Balding, who showed how far she came in a year after shooting 91-82 and finishing in 39th place in her state tournament debut as a freshman.
Moreover, it illustrated how wide the gap has become between Balding and others in her class.
It is not unusual for some classes to be slow to develop. However, a year ago at this time, the Class of 2022 featured three likely NCAA Division I-caliber recruits in the middle of their sophomore years; this class has just one.
Given how few options presented themselves for the Class of 2020 (only five seniors signed National Letters of Intent at the beginning of last week's early signing period) and how few remain for those yet to announce their college plans, the next 12 months figure to be critical for those in the Class of 2022 who have aspirations of playing college golf. Not only are the resumes among those second through 15th in our ranking similar to each other, the ceiling of what has been accomplished by golfers in that group thus far leaves open the possibility of significant changes behind Balding by our next ranking in July.
For now, Hartland Arrowhead's Lauren Peterson, the top sophomore finisher behind Balding at the WIAA state tournament, continues to hold down the No. 2 spot while Bay Port's Avery Dudra jumps from No. 5 to No. 3. Dudra, like Peterson, finished first at her conference championship and was a steady low-80s scorer in the postseason until a tough final day at the state tournament.
Ellie Frisch, who helped Middleton win the Division 1 state title, moved from No. 9 to No. 4 after her second consecutive top-20 finish at University Ridge. More importantly, she filled a key role for the Cardinals when a foot injury sidelined junior Glenna Sanderson for the Big Eight Conference Championship and WIAA regional, moving into the team's No. 2 spot, placing second to senior teammate Kate Meier at the Big Eight meet and fifth at the regional.
Kettle Moraine's Jenna Anderson (No. 5) and Madelie Fiebig (No. 6) stayed in the top six ahead of three newcomers to the top 10 — Lodi's Haley Thoeny, Sheboygan North/South's Ava Wittstock and St. Croix Central's Sally Vangsness. Thoeny came on late in the spring as the No. 5 golfer on the Lodi boys team before making another jump in her first five career starts on the WPGA Junior Tour; Wittstock won a regional title and finished second at the sectional, helping Sheboygan to its first state berth in eight years; Vangness capped a late-season surge by helping St. Croix Central to its first state berth in 16 years and then finishing sixth individually in the Division 2 state field.
That trio is reflective of a class featuring so many golfers whose best golf is yet to come.
Nos. 10 through 25 on our list is full of such golfers, including two — No. 16 Karlye Kriewaldt and No. 25 Devan Utter — from a deep team at Middleton where they have only seen spot action at the varsity level. My hunch is there will be plenty more like them before the Class of 2022 dons a cap and gown.