Girls golf: Willmar Cardinals can't wait to get the season started
With 18 golfers out, Willmar hopes to be a top-tier team in the Central Lakes Conference and Section 8AAA
WILLMAR — As the temperatures outside continue to warmer, it is safe to say there is a lot of eagerness around the Willmar girls golf program to get outside and begin the 2023 season.
"We're all really excited for the season to start, get outside, and meet girls on the course," Willmar freshman Kennedy Mara said. "It's so much fun going out and playing with teams. We're all excited to go to our first meet and see what happens."
Fortunately for the Cardinals, they have had access to Eagle Creek Golf Club's two indoor simulators as they await the outdoors. Now going on consecutive seasons, the Willmar girls can mimic their regular play through the use of the simulators.
"The past couple of years we've been hitting in the school with ping pong balls. To have this and be able to putt, chip, hit all sorts of clubs, track the distance and swing speed and just have access to all that stuff that we wouldn't normally be able to do, helps," Willmar sophomore Avery Olson said. "It's really nice and special that they gave us this opportunity."
The Cardinals are fresh off a fourth-place finish in the Central Lakes Conference in 2022. Alexandria took first in the conference and has won back-to-back Class AAA titles. Brainerd and Fergus Falls also placed ahead of Willmar.
And while Willmar will be without Kessa Mara, who is playing golf at Winona State University, and Brynn Grieger, the program has good numbers. There are 18 girls on the high school roster and plenty more at the junior high level.
This brings hope for the future and has also helped create inner squad competitions among the girls.
"Our program is getting stronger," Willmar head coach Bryan Mara said. "We're getting more kids and junior high kids playing golf than we've had in years.
"I feel pretty good about our team makeup. It's really a great group of young ladies that are working really hard everyday."
Previously, Bryan Mara served as a co-head coach with Markee Blahosky. But with junior varsity head coach Amanda Sellner stepping away from the program due to the birth of her first child, Blahosky will be at the helm of the junior varsity team and Bryan Mara will continue to lead the varsity program.
"Coach Blahosky volunteered to step down to the 'JV' coach job for a couple of years until (Sellner) is ready to be back," Bryan Mara said. "This is the first year that I've been the sole head coach and this is going to be year five that I've been coaching the girls."
Olson and Kennedy Mara return as two of Willmar's top golfers alongside junior captain Fernanda Ossa Letelier. Senior Halle Mortensen, juniors Chelsea Rohloff and Maycee Gustafson and freshman Lily Jorgenson are also in the mix.
"We're ready to get outside and play some actual holes," Mortensen said. "Walking the course and having that team bonding is a little bit more different than being in a room with everybody all at once. You get to break up individually and talk more one-on-one or two-on-two with girls and that's where the bond comes."
Willmar has its hands full not only in the CLC, but Section 8AAA as well. Alexandria and Brainerd are also in the section. Both were ranked in the top-15 by the Minnesota Golf Association in 2022. Then there is Detroit Lakes, which ranked No. 26 last season.
"We're in one of the toughest sections in the state and we're in a really good conference," Bryan Mara said. "The girls are trying to improve every year."
The Cardinals are scheduled to begin their season at 10 a.m. Thursday, April 20, in the New London-Spicer Invitational at Little Crow Golf Resort.
"We're a super young team, so that helps that we will have this team for a while," Olson said. "We're excited for what this year is going to be like."