Happy underdog Indians golfers earn first state tournament berth since 2000
Tourney being held Monday and Tuesday
Menomonee Falls - Back in 2000, the last time the Menomonee Falls boys golf team qualified for the WIAA State Tournament, then assistant coach Tony Pritchard had to take the team up to Madison for the event because then-head coach Dean Christianson had a death in the family and could only make it the second day.
"And I was thinking, 'Hey, we'll do this every year (go to state),' " said Pritchard, when he took over for Christianson the following year.
Well "every year" took awhile for the Indians as the new century dawned with no state tournament berths.
That was until May 29, when in high winds, the Indians hit the ball low, played the underdog card to the hilt and finished second in the WIAA sectional at Washington County, earning their first state berth since 2000.
The interesting thing was that Pritchard had to fight for top billing on the family happiness rating that day as one of his sisters made him an uncle again with the birth of a baby.
"That always makes it a great day, but now it's just amazing," Pritchard said. "We go to some events (during the regular season) and get beat by 50 shots or so and then we finish fifth in the conference meet, but I just told the guys, that this (the WIAA series of meets) is the second season. All we have to do is be better than everybody else on just one day.
"We barely squeaked through out of the regional (on May 22) and that was a gift, but I knew everyone was working hard. They stayed late after practice and they did things on their own.
"I had a good feeling. Washington County was where we turned in our best 18-hole score of the season (324) and it's a kind of course that favors us. You can hit all over the place and then scramble (to get a decent score). Then the wind rose in the afternoon and things started to happen."
What happene was that the Indians kept the ball low and turned in a new season best of 321, only two shots back of winner (and GMC champion) Marquette (319), grabbing the second state slot out of the sectional. In doing so, they knocked out state meet regular and North Shore Conference champion Homestead, which was third with a 324.
"OB (veteran Homestead coach Steve O'Brien) was the first one to come over and congratulate us," Pritchard said. "It was such a cool day. It's why you work so hard as a coach. You get to reap rewards like this. We're not trying to win state or anything like that. We have no delusions of grandeur. Heck, our kids are just happy that the school is picking up the tab for a couple of dinners (in Madison)."
The Indians took part in the state tournament at University Ridge in Verona on Monday and Tuesday.
Senior Joe Serio, who gleefully lifted up and carried teammate Brendan Paule over to where the team photo was being shot afterward (it is one of Serio's "goofball" traits that makes him so lovable to the team), said the team thought about qualifying, but it was still an amazing feat in their eyes.
"I try to keep everyone loose," he said, "but we are a team that can all focus when needed and we can battle hard when the time comes. … We came in not shooting our best, but we knew we could average better than we have. At regional and sectional, we knew we had to buckle down if we wanted to go anywhere."
And it began well for the Indians. On that windy day, they were in second by two shots at the nine-hole turn.
"But we had to make sure we didn't start counting shots. We just needed to keep playing," Serio said, "and we were ready for the wind. We had practiced hitting low balls, hitting them straight down the highway."
And that's how they were able to hang on. Senior Kevin Burchardt went out in 36 and finished with a back nine 40 for a third-place individual finish of 76 while Serio had a personal best of 78, good for a tie for fourth, while other scores included senior Joel Zyhowski with an 83, the junior Paule (84) and junior Brandon Cole (87).
In keeping with his goofball status, Serio said he was the one hiding behind the fence with the water cooler, ready to "congratulate" Pritchard when the scores were announced.
"This is just great," Serio said. "We knew it was windy, but we just told ourselves that if we played our games, we could be at the state meet. Now, we're so pumped."
And the coach is as pleased as he could be for the entire team.
"Serio's score was a personal best by at least five shots," Pritchard said. "He's such a clown with such a happy attitude and that really worked in our favor. That kind of attitude doesn't get squished when the pressure is on. Brendan (Paule) had also been practicing so well and Kevin (Burchardt) was hitting some absolutely ridiculous drives.
"We were shooting for a 320 or so and we hoped it would be good enough."
When contacted, Christianson could only smile for his old protégé Pritchard, who finally made "every year" this year.
"The season was so up and down for him," Christianson said. "They had some good meets and they went into the tank in others, but this was a very good day. I know Tony was banging his head against the wall at times (these past few seasons), but boy did they get it done in the end."
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