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Over the past five years, the Middleton girls golf team has not lost a single Big Eight Conference dual meet, going 44-0-1.

Senior Payton Hodson has been a key part of that run.

Last year, she won the Big Eight tournament before helping Middleton finish second in the WIAA Division 1 state tournament.

This year, her influence on the program has extended even further.

Not only is she one of the team’s top golfers, she continues to act as a mentor of sorts to sophomore Kate Meier, who played on the varsity last season as a freshman and finished third in the WIAA sectional.

When Meier made the team as a ninth-grader, Hodson said she helped her meet the other players, chatted with her about which clubs to use and tried to make her feel as comfortable as possible.

It paid off — and her role continued this season.

“We’re pretty much sisters,” Meier said. “I’m gonna be pretty sad when she leaves.

“I have pretty big shoes to fill. I’ll be a little teary-eyed for sure.”

Hodson, who is Middleton’s No. 1 golfer, will head to NCAA Division I Valparaiso next fall to continue her playing career. Valparaiso was the first college she visited, and said she fell in love with the campus in northwestern Indiana.

After visiting a couple other universities, she settled on becoming a Crusader.

But that can wait.

Hodson still has plenty she wants to accomplish with the Cardinals.

Hodson and Meier enter today’s conference meet at Evansville Golf Club with lofty goals for the end of the season.

The goals include making it to the final pairing in the state tournament, which is Oct. 9-10 at University Ridge. Hodson finished tied for 30th and Meier was 33rd last year at state.

Hodson is intent on defending her Big Eight title — even though one of her top challengers might be the girl she first took under her wing a year ago.

The friends have flip-flopped top scores all season — a development which only makes the Cardinals stronger.

“It’s pretty great constantly having them compete for a top spot,” Middleton coach Becky Halverson said. “When they both get in the 70s, it’s great for us.”

The two have developed a competitive relationship, battling one another out on the course. They often end up playing in the same pairing during smaller meets, giving them the opportunity to compete on each hole.

“We take every round as if it were the state tournament and like it’s our last round,” Hodson said. “We always try to beat each other on holes.”

The two also hang out plenty outside of golf practice — though they usually end up playing more golf.

“Ever since freshman year we’ve been close. (Saying goodbye) is definitely going to be really hard,” Hodson said. “I’m going to miss her a lot.”