As an assistant coach with the powerful Madison Edgewood girls golf program during the fall season, Betsy Zadra knows what a successful golf team looks like.
She saw that potential in the Waunakee boys program when she took over last season. And the Warriors haven't disappointed.
The program reached heights it had never before seen last spring, qualifying for the WIAA Division 1 state tournament for the first time in school history.
With a bulk of that team returning this year, the Warriors are once again taking on that state look.
"Last year, we came in and nobody knew how good we were," said Zadra, who also was an assistant with the Waunakee girls program when it won the 2010 state championship.
"But I knew how good we were. I knew these boys and what good golfers they were. I really thought we would get to state and thought we had a good team. But now people see us and know we're a good team."
The Warriors have matched their reputation this year.
Armed with the No. 8 ranking in the Golf Coaches Association of Wisconsin's Division 1 state rankings, the Warriors are hoping to improve on their fate from last year — which saw them reach University Ridge in dramatic fashion.
The postseason path to the state tournament took a dramatic route, as the Warriors finished behind Reedsburg in the Badger South Conference tournament and advanced to the sectional and state meets by a combined five strokes before finishing 11th at University Ridge.
"I tend not to look at those rankings, and I tell the team not to look at them," Zadra said.
The boys have heeded their coach's advice, taking this tricky season one day — or, in some cases, one weather event — at a time.
Like most of the state's spring teams, Waunakee has battled both opponents and the elements, not knowing from day to day if it will be practicing indoors or out, or playing meets due to rain, snow or plummeting temperatures.
But this now-veteran team, which includes six of the top seven players from last year's squad, just keeps on grinding through the obstacles. When Mother Nature had other plans for practice, Waunakee's players hit Cherokee Country Club or at Vitense Golfland to keep their swings as fine-tuned as possible.
"It's tough to keep your game sharp, but our coach has really helped us with that and given us other opportunities when the weather's bad," said junior Sean Murphy, a returning honorable mention all-state player a year ago with a nine-hole average of 39.3 this year. "Some other teams weren't able to get out to ranges (when the weather was bad), so that's definitely been an advantage."
With so many players back from last year's landmark team, senior co-captain Andrew Hasik established with his team early on that complacency would not be an issue.
"With the experience we had coming back from last year, they understood what it takes to be successful in conference and with the playoffs coming up," said Hasik, who averages 40.7.
In addition to having veteran depth, the Warriors look even stronger with the return to form of junior Jacob Werlein (40.3 average), who was an all-conference pick as a freshman but struggled during his sophomore year. He seems to be back on track after starting out slowly this season, recently turning in back-to-back scores of 73 and 72. He'll be Waunakee's No. 5 golfer at Tuesday's Badger Conference meet at the House on the Rock Resort in Spring Green.
"We go through all of our goals at the beginning of the year, and state's one of them," Werlein said. "Once the next two weeks come around, we start thinking about that and practicing for it."
Waunakee, as its postseason tightrope act proved last year, knows that nothing in its bid for a second consecutive state trip will be offered up for free.
"I made it clear to the guys that if you thought it was hard to get to state last year, it's going to be even harder this year," Zadra said. "For us to get back we have to fight complacency, and we're going to fight that and not just assume we'll be good because we're good."