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While growing up in Middleton and learning to play golf at Pleasant View Golf Course, home of the Cardinals program,senior Kate Meier longed for the day when she could lead a team of her own.

In 2015, she saw how players such as Alexis Thomas and Loren Skibba led Middleton to the school’s second WIAA Division 1 state championship. More importantly, she observed how Thomas and Skibba practiced and conducted themselves, both on and off the course.

One day, she hoped, she would step into their golf shoes. That day arrived this season, when Meier was given the nickname of “Mama Kate.”

And the Cardinals, last year’s state runners-up, hold the No. 1 state ranking heading into sectionals on Tuesday at The Oaks in Cottage Grove. If all goes well, Middleton will make its eighth consecutive trip to the Oct. 14-15 state tournament at University Ridge Golf Course.

“We have really good leadership with Kate,” Middleton coach Becky Halverson said. “She’s really good at keeping the girls focused on the match they’re on. We don’t look too far ahead.”

She’s also important in setting the tone off the course. Just like predecessors Thomas and Skibba, she serves as the heartbeat of the team — encouraging the girls during practice, reminding them they are representing their school and being the link that connects the past group of golfers with the program’s future.

Some high school students may not appreciate a nickname that belies their age, but Meier embraces it.

“I love it,” she said. “The girls have been calling me that all season. We all have nicknames on the team, but I think mine is a little bit extra-special.”

As the school’s No. 1 player and returning Big Eight Conference and Wisconsin State Journal All-Area Player of the Year, Meier indeed leads on and off the course for the Cardinals.

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Meier, a Loyola (Ill.) University recruit, heads an experienced team that returns all but one player from last year’s state runner-up. With a strong and deep returning cast behind Meier, the Cardinals have been ranked No. 1 ever since they edged defending state champ Wales Kettle Moraine in the first week of the season.

Meier’s nine-hole average this season is 39.1 and leads the Cardinals, but junior Glenna Sanderson (40.1) and sophomore Ellie Frisch (40.6) aren’t far behind. Three other solid varsity contributors average in the 43-to-45 range, including senior Makenzie Hodson, a three-year letterwinner.

Depth has been especially important. Sanderson is dealing with a foot injury and missed the Big Eight tournament and the regional meet. She is expected to play Tuesday.

“This is probably one of the best groups we’ve seen come through Middleton,” said Halverson, a bold statement considering the program’s two state championships and six runner-up trophies since 2001. “The last title was 2015, so (Makenzie and Kate) came in and were state runners-up two years.

“They’re itching for (another title) and they know that it’s a possibility.”

Should Middleton emerge as sectional champion, Meier will finish off an impressive feat. She would be the first senior in the program to win every regional and sectional of her career — an 8-0 record.

When asked about the potential accomplishment, Meier instead invokes the spirit of past Middleton leaders.

“We bring the underclassmen under our wing, and show them the Cardinal way, which is supporting each other, and representing your school with pride,” Meier said. “The team is something bigger than ourselves. It’s really inspiring to show the (underclassmen) what they can potentially become, and that with everything that we work so hard for, we can be special.”

Bucky!

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