The Alexandria girls’ golf team is in the driver’s seat heading into the final Central Lakes Conference meet of the season on Thursday, and it’s a spot that this program has become all too familiar with over the last decade-plus.
The Cardinals have positioned themselves to win their 11th CLC title in 12 years if they can finish first or second in Willmar on Thursday. The conference championship meet counts double for team points, which means second-place Rocori still has a shot if the Spartans can win and Alexandria somehow finishes third or worse. That’s an outcome that seems unlikely for a team that has won all three of its conference meets to this point.
“We’re posting pretty good scores,” junior Emily Thul said after a 12-team Alexandria Invite at AGC on Monday. “I think as long as we keep improving on all the parts of our game, we should be good heading into the CLC on Thursday and sections in two weeks. I think we just need to keep our heads on straight. As long as we post a good score, all six of us, we should be pretty happy with how it works out.”
Thul is part of an Alexandria lineup that finished second with a team score of 343 in some wet conditions on a rainy day at the Alexandria Invite. The Cardinals, ranked seventh in the latest Minnesota Golf Association polls, fell three shots short of third-ranked Wayzata, which was led by medalist Sarah Burnham with a 75.
Amanda Bigger led Alexandria with a second-place finish of 78. Thul shot an 87 to finish fourth, while sisters Bridget (88, 7th place) and Natalie (90, 11th place) Amundson rounded out the top four scorers for the Cardinals.
It’s a lineup that has been too deep for other CLC teams to overcome this season. Alexandria lost just one senior in Caroline Roers off of last year’s state tournament team. That set them up as the obvious front-runners coming into the spring, and they haven’t disappointed with those expectations.
“We were pretty stoked for the season,” Bigger said. “Especially with a new 8th grader coming in, Bridget, so we thought we could do it this year and hopefully win the conference.”
Bridget Amundson has followed in the footsteps of her older sister in coming in and performing well at the varsity level at a young age. Natalie burst onto the scene last year as a freshman and proved to be a consistent scorer for this team. She led Alexandria by finishing tied for 29th at the 2012 state tournament with a two-day score of 173, one shot lower than Bigger’s score of 174. Now Bridget is adding even more depth to an already deep team as just an 8th grader.
“They have been real key players, little secret weapons,” Thul said. “Bridget, especially. She came up this year and has been posting in the high 80s, which is just what we need in case somebody ends up shooting in the 90s, we always have her score to take. Natalie, too. She came out last year just crazy, shooting in the 70s all the time, so they definitely have been helping out our team score a ton.”
They are following a trend that has been perhaps the biggest reason for Alexandria’s sustained success over the past decade. The Cardinals seem to always have young players who are able to make an impact on the varsity level from the time that they step on the course.
This year’s team features two seniors in the regular top six in Brynn Novotny and Shelby Iverson. Both were part of the 2012 state tournament team that placed seventh in Class 3A. Bigger and Thul also have multiple years of experience as juniors. The luxury of having girls ready to play varsity at a young age means this program has rarely taken a step back with a nucleus of experienced golfers to build around.
“It’s summer work,” Bigger said. “It’s 100 percent work in the summer, work in the winter out at Scott [Dirck’s Golf Academy]. Then just playing competition in tournaments before high school.”
That experience also helps this team to step up as the meets become more important late in the spring. Alexandria found itself tied with St. Cloud Tech after day one during last year’s section championship meet. The Cardinals outlasted the Tigers by seven strokes on day two behind a team-low score of 83 from Thul, which included a 38 on the back nine.
“We knew that as long as we beat our Tech person, that we were hopefully going to go to state,” Thul said. “We ended up pulling it out just because everybody had the right mindset and everybody was ready. I think that we perform well under pressure, which is very key for us.”
The Cardinals will lean on that again as they try to capture another CLC title this Thursday. After that, their sights will once again be set on making a run at a Section 8-AAA title in Long Prairie June 3-4.