MATTOON — Mattoon High School girls golf coach Natalie Ambuehl is excited about the upcoming season. Not only does Kira Wolf return — a junior who has qualified for the Class 2A state meet the last two years — almost everyone else does, too, as the team only graduated one senior from last year.
All six golfers who competed for Mattoon at the 2A regional are back, and Ambuehl likes having that much experience returning.
"I lost only one senior and all of the girls are coming back, and they've played a bit more than years past in the summer and they all have a fantastic attitude," said Ambuehl, who is beginning her 15th season as the head coach. "On the first day of practice, they were working hard and I am looking forward to having a fun and enjoyable season. I have a fantastic group of girls on this team and as usual, I am looking forward to the start of the season."
The team is led by Wolf, who has been one of the best golfers in 2A in her first two seasons on the team. As a freshman, Wolf finished in sixth place at the 2A state meet with a two-day score of 146 to earn medalist honors. Last year Wolf didn't earn medalist honors, but she did finish in 14th place and was one of only four underclassmen to finish in the top 20.
Wolf followed up a strong sophomore season with a quality offseason. Most recently, she finished in second place at the Illinois Junior Amateur a couple of weeks ago, and she made it to the quarterfinals of the Western Women's Junior Amateur. She also competed in the PGA Junior Championship, was third in a tournament in Kentucky in May and was second in a tournament in Nashville in March.
"She had a fantastic summer. She's played some tough competition and has grown by leaps and bounds, and she is as strong as she can be and really striking the ball," Ambuehl said. "I am looking forward to what she can do. She owns every record here and now she can break her own records going forward."
However, the state tournament didn't go how Wolf wanted it to, even though she did finish in the top 20. Wolf was in a tie for first place after the first day, but a second-day score of 79 took her out of contention for the individual title. Wolf has since followed it up with a strong summer, which Ambuehl thinks has helped Wolf move on from that disappointment.
"It was disappointing since she finished sixth as a freshman. Getting into some of those bigger tournaments and having success there, I am hoping the monkey is off her back," Ambuehl said. "She's been at Hickory Point for a tournament this summer and we will golf there this fall, so that should help her out if she qualifies for state again, which I think she can do."
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Senior Haleigh Miller just missed out on qualifying for the 2A sectional last year. She found herself in a three-person playoff for the final spot to go on to the sectional. After the first hole, it became a two-person competition between Miller and Bloomington's Madeline Christiansen, who wound up edging Miller for the final spot.
Miller returns as the No. 2 golfer this year, and Ambuehl said Miller has taken on a big leadership role this season.
"She's getting some new equipment and she is looking forward to a great senior year in golf. I am hoping getting that little taste of sectionals helps," Ambuehl said. "She has a fantastic attitude and is a great leader for the team. Her attitude is contagious and it's second to none on the team."
Junior Meah Butler saw a good amount of time on the varsity team last year, and Ambuehl said she is grabbing ahold of the No. 3 spot on the team.
"Meah got some lessons this summer and has really worked hard," Ambuehl said. "She got the golf bug in her and I think that she's the one that is turning the corner. We are going to see some nice scores posted from her this season. Callan Haldorsen also spent some time hitting some balls and getting ready."
Katherine Carter-Alvis and Sydney Allee both return and both were part of the varsity roster at the regional meet.
Mattoon's first meet is today (Monday) at 4 p.m. at the Charleston nine-hole scramble.
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