You could cut the tension in the air with a knife as the Northwestern High School girls golf team awaited their fate at the WIAA Division 2 Sectional tournament Monday, Oct. 1, at the Hayward Golf Club.
Tiger coach Scott Janigo knew his girls just got done playing some of their best golf of the season, but they did finish third at regionals, and with only the top two teams at sectionals advancing to state, he knew it was going to be close.
When the final scores were posted, the Tigers found out they finished in second place, behind Hayward and just ahead of Amery and Ladysmith, which finished second at regionals and had defeated the Tigers all three times they faced each other this season.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” Janigo said. “It was a pleasant surprise, but I knew if we put our best foot forward, maybe we would have a chance.
“I had no idea what kind of scores were being posted, so I was still a little unsure in the clubhouse. But when I started seeing our scores come in, I knew we golfed pretty good. Then when that last score got put up there, and low-and-behold we were in second place, it was an exciting time.”
Not surprising to Janigo was the play of Tiger junior Kiernan Smith, who finished tied for first with Hayward’s Emily Neff with 78s.
Smith was eventually crowned the sectional champion when her par beat out Neff’s bogey on the first playoff hole.
“I didn’t know how she (Neff) was doing until the turn,” Smith said. “When I saw she shot a 37 and I had put up a 40, I knew I had to step it up and be consistent over the final nine holes.”
Smith did just that as her 38 on the back nine included seven 4s, a 3 on No. 14 and a 7 on No. 15.
“It was just a lot of focus and putting saved my life, honestly,” Smith said. “I didn't make a lot of long putts, but I managed to sink a lot of 10 to 15 foot putts that got me right up there with Emily.”
Smith was also Northwestern’s low golfer at last year’s WIAA Division 2 sectional tournament, finishing in 11th place with a 93.
“After coming close last year, I worked my butt off,” Smith said. “I practiced every day and I worked on my focus. Hard work paid off.”
As a team, the Tigers finish in second place with a score of 392, eight strokes behind Hayward’s winning score of 384.
Senior Chloe Larson also finished in 10th place for the Tigers with a 96.
“I just wanted to do the best I could,” Larson said. “I wasn’t playing that well earlier in the season, but have been able to turn things around a bit.
“I feels great to make it to state. Being my senior year, this is when big stuff happens and this is a pretty big thing.”
Also for Northwestern, senior Lita Lind was 26th at 108 and sophomore MacKenzie Tuura was 29th at 110. Sophomore Claire Jarman, in just her second year of golfing, carded a non-counting 134.
“It was a team effort,” Janigo said. “There’s an old saying, ‘It’s now how you start, it’s how you finish,’ and our girls came around at the end and finished strong.
“We battled the elements, it got kind of icky out when the rains came and it got chilly, but our kids battled through it and didn’t let it interfere with their games.”
The WIAA Division 2 State Golf Championships are Monday, Oct. 8, and Tuesday, Oct. 9, at University Ridge in Madison.
Northwestern advanced to state two other times as a team, finishing fourth in 2005 and 13th in 2002.
The last Tiger individual to make state was Kendra Maki, who tied for 29th place in 2016.
“I’m sure it’s all of our goals to win it all, but I also want to have fun and play to my best ability,” said Lind, whose grandfather, Larry Lind, is Janigo’s assistant coach.
“He’s done so much for this team,” Janigo said. “It’s also kind of a neat experience for him to be coaching his granddaughter and making a trip to the state tournament. That stuff doesn’t happen every day, so it’s kind of special.”
TIGER TALES: Five of the top 10 finishers from state a year ago return to contend for the individual championship. Neff is the top returning qualifier after finishing second last season. … Members of the Tigers’ 2005 team were Hilary Botten, Kayleen Alexson, Katie Pearson, Danielle Landgreen and Maggie Lattery. … Botten was also an alternate on the 2002 team, which included Ashley Johnson, Tara Corbin, Samantha Abrahamson, Carey Kroll and Ashley Alexson. … Other Tiger individuals to advance to state include Emily Stauty (34th in 2008), Katie Pearson (10th in 2006) and Paige Bratland (2000). … Janigo, who is in his second year as coach of the Tigers, grew up in Duluth next to Ridgeview Country Club, where as a kid he played a lot of golf and did a lot of caddying. … Janigo also thanked Botten’s Green Acres, where the Tigers practice and hold home meets, and Hidden Greens in Solon Springs, where they host their invitational. … The Tigers will leave for Madison on Sunday, Oct. 7, and shoot a practice round later that day. The state tournament includes 18 holes Monday and Tuesday.