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New coach hopes to take Prescott girls golf to new level

PRESCOTT - Jill Jaeckel has been teaching band at Prescott Middle School for the past seven school years and near the end of every school year she would take her students out to play a round of golf. 

"If I saw someone who was having a really good time or had good, natural mechanics I always encouraged them to go out for the golf team in high school," Jaeckel said. "Playing the game has been a big benefit for me and I want the kids to have the same experience so they can share in that benefit." 

Jaeckel's eye for golf talent came naturally to herself as she was four-time state meet qualifier in high school at Eau Claire North. While she didn't golf on UW-Eau Claire's team while in college, she taught golf classes there and at Kilkarney Hills Golf Course in River Falls. She currently runs the women’s leagues there as well.

And the little feeder system she help start has grown into a large program at the high school level, with 16 kids out for the team this upcoming season. The builder of that program, Head Coach Debbie Hunter, retired last spring after leading PHS to its first-ever sectional meet. Now Jaeckel has the opportunity to build quite an impressive structure upon a solid foundation.

“I am super-pumped for this season to get underway!” Jaeckel said. “Everyone is very excited because we all realize we had a great turnout of players, both returning and new ones, and we have a lot of potential.”

Prescott got the season off to a good start last Friday with a solid fifth place finish in the small school division of the Barron Scramble, the usual tip-off meet to the school year in northwest Wisconsin.  The Cardinals return nine players from last season’s squad and three of them have extensive varsity experience. This trio consists of juniors Megan Westberg, McKenzie Willner and Courtney Brinker.

Jaeckel said Westberg is ready for a breakout season.

“She has the experience already and you add to this the hard work she’s put in towards her game in the offseason and she’s going to be a very good golfer this fall.” Jaeckel said.

Prescott will have to find replacements for departures such as Katie Filkins, who was honorable mention All-Middle Border Conference, Emily Valentine, Hannah LeBakken and Cindy Grey. Looking to fill the open spots on the varsity are returning players such as senior Alanah Nelson, juniors Autumn Schlecht and Lauren Hintz and sophomores Jennifer Leonard, Emily Morgan and Jennifer Kleinschmidt.

“Ideally you want your top three players set and then have the No. 4 and No. 5 spots very flexible,” Jaeckel said. “You need to provide the team the incentive to continue to practice well and put in the commitment to the sport so they have a chance to play on the varsity team or find a spot on the first JV squad. We’ve been stressing the value of commitment to our players so they know that while it’s important to have a good time playing golf, we’re also not out here to mess around either. We’re going to do this to do it well.”

This will be Jaeckel’s first coaching assignment and she knows she can’t approach her duties just as an instructor of the game.

“As a coach, I want to be able to study each player’s game and figure out what flaws there are and how to fix them,” Jaeckel said. “But I also have to have the flexibility to make sure each player progresses at a comfortable pace and stays positive. I want them to have confidence in the way they play. I also want to stress the sport is not just about hitting the ball. The finesse part of golf, chipping and putting, a player’s skills on the green, is where you take off the most strokes on a score and thus where meets are won or lost. It’s where the most improvement can be made.”

This season will be first for the Cardinals as 11 of its players will have prior golfing experience. Jaeckel likes this set-up as she can focus more instruction on the players who haven’t played the game before while the remainder work on drills.

“I’ve gotten to know many of the players through middle school so I know when I spend my time teaching to those new to the game, the others will work hard on those fundamental skills which will improve their scores and make us a more competitive team in what’s traditionally been a very strong conference.”

Prescott is golfing in the Somerset Invitational today. Thursday they begin MBC play at Pheasant Hills Golf Course hosted by Baldwin-Woodville.

“I want to keep our program’s momentum going strong,” Jaeckel said. “Our goal is to qualify for sectionals again and if we can get an individual to state, it would be a great spring forward.”