MADISON — Erika Priebe spoke Monday for the masses — a term, by the way, that also happened to describe the top of the WIAA Division 2 state girls golf leaderboard — when the Fox Valley Lutheran senior said that there was something strange about the opening round at University Ridge GC.
"I'm used to the weather being a lot worse," said Priebe, wearing a sleeveless shirt and shorts on a sun-splashed day with temperatures in the upper 60s.
Strangely, the opening-day weather was great but the scoring was average.
Her even-par 72 put the defending state champion Warhawks atop the leaderboard with a 312 total and a comfortable lead on the Red Hawks.
Priebe parred her final four holes and was the first of four golfers to reach the clubhouse with an 8-over-par 80. She would be joined by Sydney Brandt of Waukesha Catholic Memorial, Grace Welch of Madison Edgewood and Kate Munro of Racine Prairie School atop the crowded leaderboard.
"I just want to be shooting the best that I can," Priebe said after making 11 pars, six bogeys and one double-bogey. "I would love to be shooting in the 70s, but I know every day is different and I just try to play the best I can."
Brandt, who competed in Division 1 last year, bounced back from a slow start — she was 8-over through 12 holes — and played her final six holes in even par to join the fray at the top. She finished with seven straight 4s.
"The course was in really good shape," said Brandt, who drove it well but struggled on the greens. "The wind wasn't as bad as it usually could be; I remember last year was really bad. But I think 80 is a decent number to throw out there."
Munro also saved her best golf for the end of her round. She was 2-over through eight holes before going 8-over on her next five holes, forcing her to par the final five holes to earn her share of the lead.
"Overall, it was a pretty rough day for me," Munro said. "I wasn't hitting the ball as well I'd like to, but I made some good scrambles and got some pars at the end to save my round."
Welch saved her round with a single putt. That came from about 12 feet on the 18th green and fell for a par that not only kept the Crusaders sophomore tied at the top.
"One of my goals was to do better than I did last year combined," said Welch, who shot 83-81 and finished third to make her the top returning golfer in the Division 2 field. "So far, I'm off to a good start."
There is a lot riding on Welch having a strong finish.
Her Crusaders opened with a 360 and trailed La Crosse Aquinas by one shot in the team standings. Either Edgewood or Racine Prairie School has won every Division 2 state title since the WIAA split the girls golf field into two divisions in 2003.
The Crusaders counted Welch's 80, a 90 from No. 5 golfer Grace Jaeger, a 94 from No. 4 Caitlyn Hegenbarth and a 96 from No. 2 Corinna Smith. They threw out a 99 from No. 3 Anaka Leske.
"The front nine was really rough; they were really nervous," said Edgewood coach Peggy Gierhart, whose team shot 188 going out and 172 coming in. "It was a little stressful for them. I'm so proud of what they did on the back nine. They totally rallied and put their heads down and focused and improved so much. Their total score ended up pretty low, for us, and on this course. We can't talk about winning; we have to talk about how to play this golf course and they still haven't quite figured that out, but we're learning."
Aquinas learned that it, too, has the depth behind Annie Balduzzi to contend. The junior struggled on the greens with two four-putts in a round of 85, but the Blugolds got an 87 from Shealyn McCoy, a 93 from Olivia Fox and a 94 from Kaitlyn MacCharles in their 359 that was nine shots better than their sectional score.
"The best part about Annie is she has a great mental attitude and she's very strong," said Blugolds coach Andy Foley, who knows his No. 1 golfer will bounce back strong and isn't surprised his team is in position for its first state title. "We're just blessed to have the opportunity to be here and that if we just had the chance that we could score well. Surprised? I wouldn't call it a surprise. We're very happy to be where we're at. We're in a good place right now.
"(Tuesday) is a grind. You've just got to do your best and stay away from the big hole."