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2018 Preview: Sky's the limit for New Richmond girls golfers

Coach Neal Ziller uses contests to keep practices fun for the Tigers. Here he takes on some of the girls in a putting contest. Pictured (l-r) are Ziller, Maddie O'Boyle, Ashley Swiggum, Jessica Hagman and Maggie Veenendall. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

New Richmond girls golf coach Neal Ziller tries his best to contain his enthusiasm over the 2018 Tigers.

He knows an injury or some other unforeseen circumstance could derail the Tigers. But otherwise, there is reason to be incredibly optimistic over the chances of the 2018 Tigers.

The Tigers return seniors Maggie Veenendall and Ashley Swiggum, who were their top two finishers at the WIAA Division 1 sectional meet last fall. Veenendall is a two-time Middle Border Conference champion after finishing third in the conference standings as a freshman. Swiggum finished sixth in the conference in 2016, and fifth last year.

The Tigers also return junior Jessica Hagman, who as a freshman in 2016, finished third in the MBC standings. She missed the 2017 season due to a knee injury, but she is back at full strength again this season. Hagman finished her freshman season by winning the WIAA Division 1 regional individual title by shooting a 75 at the challenging Nemadji Golf Course in Superior.

With that trio of returnees, Ziller's enthusiasm is totally justified.

"The potential of this team is to get to state," Ziller said. "It's all up to the girls. They can take this as far as they want to."

It isn't just a strong top three players that make the Tigers a serious threat to reach the state meet. There is also young talent that is giving the team depth. Freshman Lanie Veenendall is Maggie's younger sister and she also looks to be a lock for a varsity position. In her first two practice rounds with the team, she shot a 40 and a 42.

There are a number of girls who've shown they could capably fill the fifth spot in the varsity lineup. Seniors Madeline O'Boyle and Emily Duncan, sophomore Ali VonWald and freshman Sydney Nolan are all competing for time in the varsity lineup.

There are six seniors among the 16 girls on the Tiger roster. Coach Ziller said the seniors act as excellent role models for the young players, in their behavior and in the way they approach their practices and matches. Ziller pointed to O'Boyle and Maisie Goodman for being particularly good leaders for the freshmen.

The Tigers are seeking their third straight Middle Border Conference championship. Ellsworth looks to be the Tigers' best competition. The Panthers finished second in the MBC and they return two of the top seven players from last season. Ziller said Baldwin-Woodville and Somerset also could put together teams that will be a factor in the MBC race.

What the Tigers are focused on most is getting to state. The last time the Tigers reached Madison was in 2012, and that is the team Ziller often compares the 2018 Tigers against. Ziller said the top four girls in the 2018 lineup all have the capability of shooting in the 30s at some point this season, a similarity to the 2012 team. He said the 2018 Tigers "have the best chance of breaking school records of any team I've had since 2012-13. This could be a special year. But the girls have to make it a priority."

The Tigers showed how good 2018 might be in their season opening match last Friday. The Barron Scramble was significant for the Tigers for two reasons. The Tigers won the team championship, shooting a 62. Eau Claire Memorial was second at 65. The second reason this was significant was it was the Tigers have scored an eagle in competition. That came on the 16th hole at Rolling Oaks Golf Course. Hagman put the team in great position, crushing a drive that Ziller estimated to be in the range of 280 yards. Lanie Veenendall followed with a fairway shot that landed five feet away from the pin. She was the first Tiger to putt, and she knocked in her shot to complete the eagle.

Hagman, Swiggum, VonWald and the Veenendall sisters competed at Barron for the Tigers.

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for more than 30 years.

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