No superstars. No seniors. No weak links. No problem.
Throughout the spring, the young Middleton boys golf team has stood together while navigating a challenging Big Eight Conference and tough WIAA Division 1 competition, holding its own through the strength of sheer numbers.
That was never more true than on Monday, when the Cardinals — not a senior among them — played to within seven shots of first place during the first round of the two-day Division 1 state tournament at University Ridge Golf Course.
The five balanced Cardinals turned in rounds of 73, 75, 75, 80 and 83 for a team total of 303 strokes, seven behind heavy favorite and defending champion Milwaukee Marquette’s 296 entering this afternoon’s final round.
“We don’t really have one kid who can break out with a super-low score, but any of them can lead us on any day,” Middleton coach Tom Cabalka said. “That really works to their advantage. They’re a close-knit group and they help each other out, but when the round starts, they’re very competitive with each other.”
Often during the season and even the postseason, someone other than No. 1 player Jacob Beckman, a sophomore, led the Cardinals. But Beckman was the top shooter on Tuesday, almost chipping in on No. 9, his final hole, but taking a 1-over-par 73.
“(The team’s depth) just fuels our drive to compete,” Beckman said. “Not only against our opponents, but as a team together.”
Beckman may have just missed his chip on No. 9, but two holes earlier, he got a little help from the golf gods to save par.
“The pin was on a side hill, and when I putted it, it just lipped out on the right side (and) ended up going behind the hole about two (or) three inches,” he said. “And I was like ‘oh, darn, that’s a par gone by.’ But all of a sudden, it started rolling back and it went in the back of the cup.”
Junior No. 2 player Carson Frisch and junior No. 4 Kip Sullivan both shot 75s for Middleton, junior No. 3 Tommy Kriewaldt shot 80 and sophomore Tim O’Malley had an 83 that didn’t count against the Cardinals’ team score.
“Tommy knows he could have played better today, but the thing is, he’s led us on other days and he knows he can come right back,” Cabalka said. “They don’t give up because they know they’re all counting on each other.”
Marquette’s top four players shot 76 or better, led by senior Jack Blair’s 71.
The individual leader was Lake Geneva Badger senior Blake Wisdom, who delivered a 2-under-par 70. Behind him was a group of five at 71 that included Blair, two-time defending individual champion Piercen Hunt of Hartland Arrowhead, Bay Port junior Preston Cedergren, Mukwonago senior Nick Schroeder and Merrill junior Russell Dettmering.
Mount Horeb senior Kasen Fager remains in the individual title chase after shooting an even-par 72 on Monday. He said he had three bogeys on the day, but quickly answered each with a birdie and then parred his final seven holes.
“I was fine with the bogeys because I was still having a good round,” Fager said.
A first-time state qualifier, Fager said he didn’t struggle much with nerves.
“It’s really just that first shot (that) can be really nerve-wracking,” he said. “But once you get into the rhythm of it, it’s not too bad.”
Sun Prairie’s Mickey Keating and Beaver Dam’s Zak Kulka both shot 75s. Among other area individual qualifiers, Milton’s A.J. Gray shot 78, Verona’s Austin Gaby had an 83 and Janesville Parker’s Kadin Kleman finished at 85.