MISSISSIPPI VALLEY CHAMPIONS
It’s been four long years since a Mississippi Valley Conference girls golf championship banner was hung on the gymnasium walls at Tomah High School.
But the wait ended Monday.
Tomah captured its sixth MVC match of the season, and with it - the 2019 girls golf championship – with a team title at the conference tournament at Viroqua Hills Golf Course.
The championship is the first for the Lady Timberwolves since Onalaska ended Tomah’s four-year reign atop the MVC standings in 2015.
“It’s very, very nice to have that conference title back,” said Tomah head coach Tonya Gnewikow. “It wasn’t a very fun four years.”
Tomah all but wrapped up the MVC title Friday with a first-place finish in a nine-hole match at Hiawatha Golf Club, but needed to finish fourth or better Monday to earn the crown outright.
Sophomore Sophie Pokela and freshman Brin Neumann made sure that happened for the Lady Timberwolves, posting rounds of 87 and 88, respectively, to lead Tomah to the team title in the 18-hole tournament.
Senior Sarah Peterson added an 18-hole score of 93 on the par-72 track at Viroqua Hills, while junior Jayda Zhu finished at 94 to round out Tomah’s top-four scorers.
Freshman Amelia Zingler added a round of 97 for the Lady Timberwolves, while sophomore Hannah Zhu finished with 107 strokes.
Tomah had been threatening Onalaska’s four-year run with four straight runner-up finishes in league play since 2015, but were unable to break through until this season.
Heading into the 2019 campaign, Gnewikow knew her team had the potential to return the title to Tomah, but the Lady Timberwolves hit a bump in the road when a pair of golfers who earned second-team honors a season ago didn’t go out for the team this fall.
Abby Sherwood’s family moved out of the school district and Jose Mathison opted to focus on hockey and softball.
“To lose two good athletes was frustrating and disappointing,” offered Gnewikow. “We knew we had a lot of good, young golfers coming up, but with young players you never know.”
Enter Peterson, a 2018 all-MVC first-team golfer who was in seventh grade the last time Tomah won a MVC title, and rookies Neumann and Zingler.
Under the leadership of Peterson, Neumann and Zingler quickly turned into top-three golfers for the Lady Timberwolves.
“Sarah did a great job. She’s a great team leader working with the younger golfers, and it’s definitely showed up when we get on the course,” said Gnewikow. “The younger girls have nicknamed her ‘Team Mom’. She’s a very consistent golfer.”
With a different line-up than initially expected, the newer, younger version of the Lady Timberwolves showed its potential on the links from day one.
After opening the season with a runner-up finish in the Onalaska Invitational, Tomah won four straight large tournament and set the program’s 18-hole scoring-record with a team total of 324 while capturing the Viking Invitational team title at Drugan’s Castle Mound Golf Course in the late-August.
The Lady Timberwolves followed by winning six of seven MVC events to outdistance rival Onalaska by 11 points in the final league standings.
Gnewikow said Tomah’s early-season success played a big role in the team’s chase for the MVC title.
“I think it was a confidence-builder and we went into MVC play with a lot of confidence,” she said.
Another key, according to Gnewikow, was the team’s hard work in the off-season.
“Out of any year I’ve coached, this group had the most girls I’ve had playing competitively over the summer. They went right from the TRGA and PGA Juniors to the high school season,” she said.
That group included Pokela, Zingler, Neumann and Hannah and Jayda Zhu.
While Peterson didn’t play in as many summer events in Wisconsin, she attended a prestigious golf camp at Pinehurst in North Carolina to keep her skills sharp in the off-season.
“She really learned a lot of stuff that she brought back and shared with the younger golfers,” Gnewikow added.
“It’s exciting. I’m really proud of everyone on our team,” said Peterson of the 2019 title.
“It took a team effort to get there and I’m honored to be a part of such a special team,” she continued. “I feel like everyone worked very hard over the summer and we have a great team bond.”
Peterson believes the bond the Lady Timberwolves share is a big reason for the team’s success this season.
“Laughing a lot has helped. Keeping our nerves calm in certain situations is good, and we’ve been working a lot on that too,” she concluded.
While Tomah can check off one of its goals off the list, there is still the post-season to consider.
The Lady Timberwolves are back in action Wednesday, when they travel to Wisconsin Rapids to compete in the 9 a.m. Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 regional at The Ridges Golf Course.