High school golf: Erin Ericson, Katie Chafoulias leading Hilltoppers

Onalaska High School’s Erin Ericson drives towards the green of hole No. 2 during practice last week at Coulee Golf Bowl in Onalaska.

Rory O’Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune

ONALASKA — Expectations were certainly high following back-to-back top-10 finishes at the WIAA state meet, but even with a few key cogs lost to graduation, the Onalaska High School girls golf team hasn’t missed a beat.

Led by seniors Erin Ericson and Katie Chafoulias, the Hilltoppers have won three of the first four MVC meets to open the season. Ericson’s scoring average of 39.75 leads the conference by a full stroke.

Onalaska split the two MVC meets at The Golf Club at Cedar Creek on Wednesday, falling on the front nine to Aquinas by a stroke (185-186) before winning the meet on the back nine by nearly a dozen (172-183).

“The two girls that are seniors this year have done a really good job of being leaders,” Hilltoppers coach Daren Simms said of Ericson and Chafoulias. “They came into the season ready, and both having played with the three seniors that graduated last year, it showed them a lot about what they need to do, how they need to handle themselves. It’s paying dividends now.”

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High school golf: Erin Ericson, Katie Chafoulias leading Hilltoppers

Onalaska High School’s Katie Chafoulias drives towards the green of hole No. 2 on Thursday during practice at Coulee Golf Bowl in Onalaska.

Those graduation losses — Sydney Hubbard, Courtney Olson and Karli Breitling — have been minimized by the strong play of junior Alyssa Achenreiner and freshman Amber Nguyen.

Bringing along newcomers into a team dynamic is unique in a solitary sport like golf, Chafoulias said.

“It’s really different, and a lot of people don’t really understand it, because it’s such an individualized sport,” said Chafoulias, who placed fifth and third, respectively, Wednesday in the back-to-back MVC meets at The Golf Club at Cedar Creek. “It’s completely your own game, but at the same time, your team has to have the same mentality and you have to sort of lead by example and show how you’re supposed to act and what you’re supposed to do.”

Walking hole after hole with your teammates can lead to a learn-by-osmosis effect, according to the Hilltoppers seniors.

“During the round, a lot of the time you think of your teammates and how they’re doing, but you’re focusing on how well you’re doing yourself, knowing that it affects the team dynamic,” said Ericson, who won the second meet Wednesday and took second in the first. “Individually, if you do better, the team will do better, so you just have to focus on every stroke and make every stroke count.”

Simms said that his main advice to the Hilltoppers is to simply play the course one shot at a time, and not let mistakes multiply.

“I’ve preached this: Stay in the moment, and don’t dwell on something that may have happened negatively,” Simms said. “Play the hole you’re on. Make two or three good shots (every hole) and you’ll make par.”

As much as you may hear it, that sense of poise comes from experience more than anything.

“Freshman year, it was a lot harder for me to keep that mentality, and I definitely looked up to (the then-seniors) in that sense,” Chafoulias said. “You don’t have the same experience so you’re looking to someone who does.”

The seniors have been enjoying success early on. Ericson, who placed 16th at the state meet as a junior, may be looking towards a collegiate playing career as well. But the veterans are doing their best at keeping the Hilltoppers from looking too far off into the future.

Ericson said: “We’re just going to focus one meet at a time, one shot at a time, and hope our hard work pays off.”