Girls' golf: Panthers preparing to send more than Feuerhelm to Madison
August tends to brew the anticipation of spending Friday nights on high school bleachers and sporting Wisconsin's finest red, green and yellow throughout fall weekends amongst yearning sports fans, but the final month of summer signifies something other than the return of football for Holly Carlson and Erica Feuerhelm: the start of another high school girls' golf season.
Carlson, Feuerhelm and the remaining returners of the Ellsworth girls' golf team's anticipation for the 2018 season dates back further than Feb. 5, 2018.
"We are ready for this season. We've been talking about it for a while, and we're just ready to get on that golf course," Carlson said. "I mean, just practicing isn't the same as competition."
For months the Panthers have been limited to honing in on their skills by dedicating tedious hours to the putting greens, entering into individual tournaments and playing trivial rounds of golf with their friends, but are now reunited for the season they have big plans for.
The Panthers proved to be a team worthy of respect in 2017 by earning a second-place finish in the Middle Border Conference, taking fourth place at their regional and sectional meets and by sending Erica Feuerhelm to the state meet in Madison. But once Feuerhelm made Ellsworth girls' golf history by recording the program's lowest two-day score of 188 at the state meet, a goal of joining her on University Ridge Golf Course in 2018 began to surface for the entire Panther team.
"We've been talking about our goals for this season since the end of last year," Panthers' head coach Carson Huppert said. "We want to compete with New Richmond again and obviously we want to win regionals and go to state as a team for the first time ever. That's been our main goal, and we know this year is a good year for it."
Ellsworth returns all but one of its 2017 varsity golfers — 2018 graduate Taylor Feuerhelm — and returns a handful of golfers ready to prove their worth, including the 1-2 punch, two-time All-Conference honorees Carlson and Feuerhelm.
Feuerhelm may have been away from WIAA competition for the past 10 months, but she hasn't wandered far from the greens during her offseason.
"Erica was a machine this summer," Huppert said. "She'd be out here and she'd putt for hours. Not too many girls just putt and work on their short game like that."
Feuerhelm played in nearly two tournaments per week this summer and traveled to Arizona in the winter to continue competing when the Midwest weather didn't accommodate her training.
"She's way better this year than she was last year," Huppert said. "I think last year she got a taste of success and now she's striving for more by working a lot harder, and it's shown. She's sometimes shooting in the 70s now and it wasn't even a thought that she could do that last year."
Feuerhelm credits her recent improvement to her focus on course management and ball contact. While the senior captain has dedicated her attention to how hard and where she hits the ball, Carlson has made how she reacts to her shots one of her top priorities.
"I've worked on just staying focused on the game and not getting as frustrated about my shots," Carlson said. "Let's say I hit it to the left, I'll tell myself, 'Oh, I actually hit it pretty far,' and just focus on the positive stuff so that bad shots don't get in my mind, because once they get in my mind, I start getting frustrated and that's when your golf game goes down."
Wallowing in mistakes isn't an option for the Panthers who hope to become the first Ellsworth girls' golf team to compete at the state meet, especially now that they'll have to go through Edgewood Sacred Heart's sectional where they'll be tasked with getting past Aquinas — the 2017 Division 2 champions — and 20-time state competitor Edgewood to get their entire team to University Ridge.
"I think the girls were disappointed when they first found out about it but embraced it and began to work harder because they knew the sectional would be harder, which is just going to make them better golfers in the long run," Huppert said.
"I think it definitely won't be as easy as our other regional and sectional, but I think it will give us that push to keep getting better," Feuerhelm said, confirming her coach's belief.
"We're ready to reach the top," Carlson added. "We're super excited for this and we just want to get to that top of the mountain and go to state and have fun."
Don't forget about the girls' golf team, Panther fans. The Panthers are determined to create as much buzz around golf as their fall-sport counterparts.
"Golf is just an underrated sport, but just because people aren't coming to our meets and we don't have a student section cheering us on, I still want people to know that we can do just as much as the football and volleyball teams," Carlson said. "We want to make some history in Ellsworth."