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County prep golf teams go through accelerated season

Mike Hovel tees off to hole No. 4 at a recent meet in Durand.

Pierce County prep golf teams are going their seasons at warp speed it seems as they try to get in rescheduled meets up before regionals which are less than two weeks away.

County teams finally began play a week ago on April 29 and 30 before the May snowstorm shut things down for a few days. Unfortunately it cost Ellsworth their lone home meet of the season this past Monday with no indications it will be made up.

Still last week's play was the first time for teams they were able to get on their local courses finally release from a long winter's snow cover.

"The kids were just itching to play because we spent a month cooped up inside and frankly it became pretty tedious because there's only so much you can do indoors," Ellsworth head coach Cory Brathol said. "We did things to keep it lively like have competitions and games to keep the kids in a competitive mode while working on what we could."

That lengthy time inside allow count teams to work on basic skills like putting, grip, squaring the club head to the ball along with swing principals. Given that all three county prep golf teams, Ellsworth, Prescott and Spring Valley, are fairly young by experience standards, it was time at least well spent.

"The indoor worked helped, you could see the improvement in those areas we worked on inside competing in our first meets," new SV head coach Ben Rudesill said. "We were to focus on certain techniques a little more than usual."

But indoor golf has its obvious limitations.

"You don't get a good read on things like your swing or driving because you're working off a mat and not the real thing and you won't know until you can spend enough time outside to critique," Prescott head coach Jay Bartsch said.

Ellsworth has made the biggest splash so far, winning the Colfax Invitational which was their first meet win in four years and first large-meet victory in a decade. The Panthers won the meet by getting low scores from returning junior letterman Bryce Stein and from last year's top JV golfer, sophomore Emery Whalen.

Other returning lettermen for the Panthers are junior Chrystian Kulow, who qualified for sectionals last spring, and sophomore Mike Tingelhoff. There are no seniors on the team and just three juniors. Kyle Kurrelmeyer is the other junior and he's out for the sport for the first although Brathol said he has plenty of playing experience. He's been with the EHS varsity five since the start of the season.

Ellsworth finished sixth last season in both the Middle Border Conference and in the regional meet. Brathol says improvement from those placements is possible but there's not a lot of time to do so. After all on Monday is the 18-hole MBC conference meet at Clifton Highlands beginning at 9 a.m.

"We only have a short amount of time for improvement," Brathol said. "Having three varsity players back have helped a lot given they have a good feel for varsity play and we've certainly shown what we're capable of when we play well. We just need the confidence to do so consistently."

Prescott will not only host the league meet but also their own home meet which was rescheduled for next Wednesday at 4:30 p.m at Clifton Highlands. Like Ellsworth, Prescott returned just three lettermen in seniors Nick Strandine, Jordan Koski and junior Alex Stuhl, from last season's team which finished eighth in the league and 10th in the regional out of 11 teams. They also have back their top JV golfer from last season in junior Tate Nahorniak. Other upperclassmen on the Cardinal squad are seniors Mike Hovel and Carson Mercord. Younger players on the team who've played with the varsity include freshman Bailey Benck and sophomore Brendon Fraser.

PHS had its best meet showing so far at last Tuesday's outing in Osceola. The Cardinals finished seventh with a score of 194 while Ellsworth was just ahead of them with a score of 182. The host Chieftains won the meet with the low score of 150 led by meet medalist Dan Cronick's score of 35. The win puts the Chiefs in the driver's seat to successfully defend their conference title from last season.

Bartsch hopes see such improve continue for the duration of the season, especially with two home meets next week.

"Progress from beginning to end is what we're aiming for," Bartsch said. "Besides technique we want to see our golfers do a better job with course management and better planning as well. What this season has shown clearly is amount of time our golfers need to spend in the summer and the offseason improving their games because you're not always going to have that time during the regular season to do so."

Spring Valle,y meanwhile, finds itself in contention for the Dunn-St. Croix Conference title. After five meets the Cardinals are in third place with 16 points behind league-leader and defending champ Glenwood City's 23 points and Mondovi's 19.

The Buffaloes host the conference's 18-hole meet on Monday. This afternoon Spring Valley has their home league meet starting at 4 p.m. at Spring Valley Golf Course and host their own invitational Saturday starting at 10 a.m.

Last year a very young SV team finished fourth in the D-SC and sixth in the regional out of eight teams. However SV had two sectional qualifiers in senior Jake Richardson and junior James Hannack and both are returning letter winners along with senior Nick Jensen and sophomore Taylor Leach.

Jake Richardson is currently in second place in the individual D-SC standings with 32 points. His brother, freshman Jason Richardson, is also in the top 10 of the league standings and fighting for all-conference designation.

"He's been team manager the past couple of seasons and he's gotten to play the area courses and practice with the team," Rudesill said. "He's hit the ground running with us now that he's in high school with little transition."

Rudesill believes the Cards' can make a run for the league title but as with the other two county teams it will take at of improvement in short amount of time to do so.

"I believe we can finish in the top half of the league standings but it will take a lot of hard work," Rudesill said. "We're still a pretty young team compared to the rest of the league."

This year's local WIAA regional meets will be on May 21 with Ellsworth and Prescott playing in the Division 2 meet at Osceola's Krooked Kreek Golf Course and Spring Valley will be the Division 3 meet at Colfax's Whitetail Golf Course. Both meets will begin around 9:30 a.m.