Ryan Nelson

Ryan Nelson chips the ball during the first day of golf practice at Oak Ridge Golf Course in Milton on Monday, Mar. 26.

Coming off a year where a state berth eluded them by only five strokes, the Milton boys golf team looks to get themselves in the same position this season — to overcome it.

After finishing second in conference behind Madison Edgewood, the Red Hawks played through regionals and nearly came away with a trip to the state meet, shooting a 339. Badger won the sectional with a 333, while Monona Grove took second with a 334.

“We were playing really well, and we just nearly missed going to state,” Milton head coach Kirk Wieland said. “We were third and we missed by five strokes, so we were right there. That’s all we want. We want to get to regionals, everyone gets there. And then from regionals, we want to keep playing as long as we can.”

The Red Hawks will head into the season with a squad of similar numbers to the previous years, Wieland said, numbering around 20, with seven juniors and seniors. The team loses Cameron Pumilia and Nick Richards from last season.

“We have our top three players back so if they can get better from where they were, and we have a couple younger kids stepping up, we could be ok,” Wieland said. “In the conference, no one’s going to touch Edgewood. They’re loaded. They’ve got everybody back and they’re just a really solid team. I guess things can happen, but they’re going to be tough to beat.”

As for determining his lineup, Wieland said the scores would make the decisions for him.

“Golf is pretty simple where scores dictate,” he said. “I don’t have to make any decisions in terms of subjective decisions. It’s basically scores are going to dictate.”

Three of his five-person varsity squad is already set with returning members from last year.

“Ryan Nelson and Tucker Dunk are both seniors,” Wieland said. “They played varsity all the way through. And A.J. Gray, he’s a junior. They’re playing. Those three guys are going to be major contributors.”

As for those vying for the final two spots, Wieland said it should be down to four remaining players.

“I have four other kids — two seniors, two juniors — who are going to have to figure out who’s going to be the four and five guys, in no particular order,” he said. “And then if there’s some other younger kids putting scores up, that’s what we’re going to need. The problem we have is this is spring break week, some kids are gone. And then we start up April 9 and we go six events in 10 days. So, we play a ton right away. Just got to figure which kids can contribute and go from there.”

As for the four players looking to break onto the varsity roster — Michael Koppa, Elliot Christenson, Andrew Thomas and Alec Revels — Wieland said together they held the four JV spots last season.

“Michael was probably the best of those four,” he said. “He did play a few varsity (events) last year and he was really close at the end of the year, so Michael I’m really expecting to step up right away and play. And then those other three players, hopefully one of them steps in. But not to say that they can’t beat Michael either. But he probably has a little bit of a head start. He had the lowest average of those four-last year.”

Unlike other sports, the outcome of the regular season doesn’t impact regionals.

“Golf is good because it’s not like in basketball, if you have bad regular season, you’re going to be seeded low,” Wieland said. “We already know we’re going to regionals, everyone’s already assigned. Everyone already knows the course, so we just have to be playing our best at regionals. There’s no seedings, you just go in there and have a clean slate. The regular season for us is to figure out who are best five are going to be at the end of the year.”

What’s different for the Red Hawks this season however is a new format to conference play. Instead of holding duals between schools, the Badger conference will instead compete in “mini-meets,” four of them throughout the year as 18-hole competitions.

“We’re doing them on consecutive Tuesdays, once a week,” Wieland said. “And so that just kind of made (the calendar) more top heavy, where we normally when we had our duals, we would schedule them later. It is what it is.”

The change is due to two additional members to the Badger Conference this season — Beaver Dam and Watertown.

“As coaches, we all just were kind of trying to figure out what’s the best thing to for the kids and so we’re going to give it a shot this year,” Wieland said. “It’s going to be a big step because it’s no longer six, nine-hole (duals), it’s four, 18-hole mini-meets where everyone’s involved.”

Wieland said he expects no unknowns or surprises to come from the season.

“I know all the courses we’re playing, familiar with all of those,” he said. “There’s really no tricks to it. Just keep the kids eligible and keep them playing and that’ll be fine.”

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