REEDSBURG -- CheyAnn Knudsen believed her chances of reaching the NCAA Division III women’s golf championship would improve after her transfer last summer from Carthage College to UW-Whitewater. And the sophomore from Milton believed it could happen quickly.
“I knew the Warhawk team and what they were capable of through their conference,” Knudsen said. “I mean I placed third last year (in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) with a good team. But I knew their team was better. Adding to it? We had a chance, for sure.”
That kind of confidence helped Knudsen rally past UW-Stout’s Rachel Hernandez over the final four holes Sunday, earn medalist honors at the WIAC Championship and help her Warhawks leave Reedsburg CC with their first conference championship since 1999. She birdied Nos. 15 and 16 and rode the pair of two-shot swings to a final-round 78 and, at 233 for 54 holes, a one-stroke victory over teammate Ashley Hofmeister, the defending conference champion.
UW-Oshkosh's Kayla Priebe shot a final-round 75 to finish alone in third at 235. Hernandez finished with an 82 to tie for fourth with UW-Whitewater's Maddie McCue (79) at 236, the third straight top-five finish for Hernandez.
Whitewater shot 311, the lowest final-round score in tournament history by three strokes, and -- with a 54-hole total of 942 -- joined Stout (959) and UW-Oshkosh (962) in bettering UW-Eau Claire’s tournament scoring record (963) set in 2009 at Northern Bay Resort in Arkdale. Eau Claire finished fourth at 983, marking the first time more than two schools broke 1,000.
“We knew we had to hang in there because we knew we were chasing Stout,” Warhawks coach Andrea Wieland said. “You just have to play your own game and then on that back nine hope that you can make some birdies and some putts. We certainly did on the last few holes.”
Indeed, after erasing Stout’s three-stroke lead entering the day and taking a two shot lead at the turn, the Warhawks inched out to a five-stroke lead after 12 holes but only led by six after 15. But their four scoring golfers combined to play the last three holes in 1-under-par -- Maddie McCue went par-par-birdie and Kelly Storti went par-birdie-par -- to pull away for the victory.
Hofmeister (75), Knudsen (78), McCue (79) and Storti (79) figured into Whitewater’s 311 in the final round. Knudsen (first), Hofmeister (second), McCue (tied for fourth) and Storti (eighth) in the top 10 as the Warhawks collected their first conference championship since 1999 and the WIAC’s automatic berth to the NCAA Division III Championship in Florida during May.
“It was obviously a team effort,” Warhawks coach Andrea Wieland said. “Maddie (McCue) had the best college tournament she’s ever had. Kelly (Storti) had two rounds of 79 and those are her best. So it took some bests from all the girls. It was awesome.”
Hernandez held a one-stroke lead over Knudsen on the 15th tee where both golfers knocked their tee shots to about 12 feet -- Hernandez above the hole, Knudsen below. Hernandez slid hers past about 2½ feet, Knudsen drained hers and Hernandez missed the short one for par.
Knudsen birdied the next hole and never look back in helping Whitewater close out its win.
“We didn’t beat Stout at all through the season,” said Knudsen, whose team tied for second at last week’s Mad Dawg Invitational at UW-Stevens Point, three shots behind the Blue Devils. “We were coming in as, like, the underdogs pretty much. They were ahead for two days so trying to go after them was our biggest thing. Pushing through and it was finally our time.”
In fact, the Warhawks might’ve been ahead of their time thanks to Knudsen and McCue, also a Milton native who transferred from North Dakota in 2016, and now play for their old high school coach.
“It’s obviously been our goal to win the conference,” Wieland said. “She knows that we had a chance this year. We maybe weren’t thinking this was going to be the year, but we were thinking at some point since Ashley and CheyAnn are just sophomores it was going to happen at some point. This is just icing on the cake to do it this soon.”