The River Falls and Ellsworth High School golf teams were the only two local programs that posted a top-four score at their respective regional tournaments last week, which qualified them for the …
The River Falls and Ellsworth High School golf teams were the only two local programs that posted a top-four score at their respective regional tournaments last week, which qualified them for the team sectional meet slated for Tuesday, May 30.
River Falls earned runner-up honors with its composite score of 303 at the Division 1 regional tournament at the Wild Ridge Golf Course in Eau Claire on Tuesday, May 23. Ellsworth finished third with a round of 329 at the D2 regional in Osceola on Tuesday afternoon.
Prescott and Spring Valley/Elmwood/Plum City both missed sectional qualifying, as they finished eighth and ninth respectively at Osceola. Prescott sophomore Tyler Reiter was the lone individual sectional qualifier. His one-over par round of 73 finished runner-up individually. Reiter will compete in the D2 sectional in Chippewa Falls on May 30.
It would be tough to argue that any local program had a better regional tournament than River Falls. The Wildcats’ round of 303 at the D1 regional was their second-best score of the season, behind only the 302 they shot at the Hudson Invitational at the Troy Burne Golf Club on May 15.
River Falls finished behind only Eau Claire Memorial’s round of 296. The Old Abes are defending a triple crown of titles from last year including the Division 1 regional, sectional and state championships.
Junior Will Benedict was the Wildcats’ top finisher at the regional tournament. His level-par round of 72 finished tied for second individually with Eau Claire North senior Carter Lee. Benedict was bested only by Parker Etzel of Memorial, who shot a one-under par 71.
For River Falls head coach Tim LaVold, Benedict’s excellence at the regional championship was an exclamation point on his last three weeks of sublime golf.
“That was his best score ever,” LaVold said of Benedict. “He played really well on Tuesday. He got it going about the time we went to the MACC Find Invitational, and he’s been solid since then. He’s been trending in the right direction and has been feeling great.”
Senior Matthew Marsollek was the Wildcats’ second-best scorer with a one-over par round of 73, which secured a share of fourth place individually. Freshman Ryan Swanson recovered from an early mistake to shoot 78, sophomore Connor O’Malley posted an 80 and senior Aidan Carufel rounded out the scoring with an 83.
Marsollek has become an expert at plotting his way around a course and shooting a good or even great score without his best stuff. Swanson, who was the best freshman golfer in the Big Rivers Conference this year, isn’t quite to Marsollek’s level, but he has matured quickly as a player.
“Ryan (Swanson) made a mistake on the second hole and made a triple bogey,” LaVold said. “He didn’t let that get to his head. He shrugged it off and played the rest of that nine really well. He has a maturity level as a freshman which is really cool. He doesn’t let his emotions get in the way.”
Even before River Falls played its first match of the 2023 campaign, LaVold had spoken about how the whole year built toward the sectional tournament. The Wildcats have remained steadfast in their biggest goal season: get to sectionals as a team and then qualify for state.
In total, eight teams advanced from the Division 1 regional to the sectional tournament, which will be at RiverEdge Golf Course in Marshfield on Tuesday, May 30. Only two teams advance from each sectional to the state tournament.
Eau Claire Memorial is the odds-on favorite to win another sectional title this year. River Falls, Hudson and Lakeland Union are all expected to be in the mix for the second spot to go to state. LaVold spoke about how Tuesday will be the biggest meet of the year thus far.
“We’ve had some good days this year, we just need to have one more,” LaVold said. “It feels like (sectionals) is going to be a good day. The guys are feeling good and it’s a course that we’ve seen a couple of times. We know what we need to do to be successful. The opportunity is there, but it’s going to be a battle tomorrow with three or four other good teams.”
River Falls will compete in Marshfield on Tuesday morning while Ellsworth travels to Chippewa Falls and the Lake Wissota Golf Course for the Division 2 sectional tournament.
The Panthers coming off of a third-place finish at the Krooked Kreek Golf Course in Osceola on May 23. Ellsworth’s round of 329 was bested by Saint Croix Central’s runner-up 323 while Amery Warriors ran away with the title, as they were the only team that posted a sub-300 round of 298.
Ellsworth junior Trey Wittenberg led the Panthers with his two-over par 74, which finished in a four-way tie for third place. Senior Ethan Oricchio shot a 79, junior Thomas Tober posted an 87, senior Oden Anderson shot an 89 and senior Carson Nugent rounded out the scoring with a 90.
The aforementioned Wittenberg and Oricchio have been Ellsworth’s top two golfers this season. Both have another legitimate opportunity to make a run to state – whether it’s individually or as a team. After a meet in Ellsworth earlier this year, Oricchio spoke about the team’s biggest goal.
“We’d love to make it as a team and go down there with all the boys,” Oricchio said. “That would be a lot of fun. If I make it individually, that would also be great. I’m just trying to make another run to state because it was a lot of fun last year.”
Oricchio and the Panthers’ goals are still very much achievable, but they’re going to have to play some of their best golf of the year on Tuesday afternoon. The Division 2 sectional is slated to begin at the Lake Wissota Golf Course at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, May 30.