FAIRMONT - The Fairmont Cardinal girls golf team didn't expect to make the state tournament last season, but surprised itself by defeating Belle Plaine by three strokes in the Section 2AA Meet to garner the spot.
Repeating that feat this season will be no small task, but a challenge that Fairmont head coach Ron Kallheim and his team are ready to face.
"I think we kind of overperformed last year and finished better than we expected," said Kallheim. "If we want to get back to state again this year, we will have to really overperform again this season."
STATE QUALIFIERS — Members of the defending Section 2A champion Fairmont Cardinal girls golf team teeing off the season at the New Ulm Invitational on Thursday include, front row (l-r): Lizzie Larson, Samanta Marzullo and Dayna Madsen. Back row: Madison Holmers, Cassidy Krusemark and Alyssa Westcott. Not pictured: Megan Rosol, Elizabeth Kim and Emily Kim. Photo by Leanna Becker
Senior varsity veterans Lizzie Larson, Megan Rosol and Elizabeth Kim will lead the Cardinals' charge this spring.
Larson finished last year's season with a team-low nine-hole average of 46.1, with Rosol close behind with a 46.4 average.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Kim, who improved and lowered her scores throughout the season, netted a scoring average of 49.9.
"I hope and think that by the middle of the season, Elizabeth will be back to shooting in the mid-90s like she did last season," said Kallheim.
Rosol, who had knee surgery over the summer, might not be as strong out of the gate, but is still a key player for the Cardinals.
"With Megan's knee surgery, I've heard that everything has been going well. I hope that she is able to get out and play as well as she did last year, but she'll have to start out slow and build back the strength," said Kallheim.
After losing a pair of seniors in Emily Splinter and Cayce Craig to graduation last spring, the Cardinals will look to underclassmen to fill the final three spots in the starting lineup.
Freshman Cassidy Krusemark, who filled the sixth spot during last year's postseason meets, will most likely fill one spot, while Emily Kim and Alyssa Westcott could round out the varsity roster.
"Emily Kim came out, I believe, as an eighth-grader, and has played in the summers with her family. I know that she's strong, so she'll probably be able to really drive the ball. The question is how straight it might go," said Kallheim. "I think the focus early will be how to manage the game and the course. The players need to know that they will have bad holes, but so will everyone else. It's about managing the next hole."
The Cardinals' first three South Central Conference dual meets will give the players a chance to get back into the swing of things with nine-hole meets. Fairmont then completes its SCC schedule with a pair of 18-hole meets to prepare for tournament play.
"With the shorter meets first, I think it'll be nice for Megan to ease into playing without any pressure on her. It'll also give the other girls a chance to get back into playing," said Kallheim.
Blue Earth Area will be a tough opponent for the Cardinals, with Section 2A, South Sub-Section champion senior Autumn Drake leading the way. The Bucs also return Natali Fellows, Anna Aukes and Aeli Olson from last year's successful squad.
"Waseca didn't lose much. They will be very strong with four seniors, including Melissa Bartz, who finished second in the section. Blue Earth Area will also be very good, though they didn't lose much either," said Kallheim.
With the cooler-than-usual weather, the Cardinals will have to wait until Thursday's New Ulm Invitational now since today's opening round at the Worthington Invite was cancelled.
"I think the girls are excited for the season. After the success we had last year, and through the e-mails and texts I've been getting, I can tell they are excited," said Kallheim.