Coach Nathan Herfindahl has seen this trick before.
The Magic girls golf team, notoriously slow starters the last couple of years, have shown major signs of life during the last week, including a season-best 373 at the Monticello Country Club Monday. That backed up a solid performance at the pre-section meet, where Monti finished eighth out of 12 teams and just nine shots back of sixth place, which is where Monti needs to be if they want to realize their goal of the team advancing to the second day of the section meet.
“We’ve always been slow out of the gate,” said Herfindahl. “But there have been some bright spots as well.”
The number of bright spots has seemed to multiply in the last week. Last Tuesday, Monti finished in the top half of the Mississippi 8 at the mid-conference meet. The Magic posted a 396, coming in fifth out of 10 teams at Bulrush GC. Senior Ali Meierhofer led a very balanced Magic attack at the meet, using a front-nine 46 to post a 97 overall. That was good for 19th place at the meet. Following close behind her were Natalie Swanson and Lauren Dahl with 99s and Grace Farnsworth with a 101.
Thursday, Monti traveled to the Preserve Golf Course for the Pre-Section 8AAA Golf Tournament, where the Magic got a chance to see the course and the competition that they’ll see again in a few weeks at the real section tournament. Monti placed eighth at the meet with a 409. Willmar was one stroke ahead of Monti, while sixth-place Sartell shot a 400.
Swanson led Monti at that meet, finishing 12th overall with a 93. Josie Warmka posted a 104 for Monti’s second best score of the day, while Lacy Owen and Ali Meierhofer both turned in 106s to round out Monti’s scoring.
Most recently, on Monday, Monti placed fourth out of five M8 West teams with a 373 at the MCC. Swanson and Dahl both shot season best 89s to lead Monti on their home course. Josie Warmka posted a 94, and Owen added a 101 to complete Monti’s 373. Buffalo, which won the pre-section meet the week prior, won Monday’s meet with a score of 333.
For Monti, both Dahl, an eighth-grader, and Farnsworth, a ninth-grader, are helping to lead a youth movement in the program. With 15 girls out for the varsity and junior varsity and 10 more out at the middle-school level, Herfindahl is excited about the direction the program’s numbers are trending, and the talent that’s coming with it.
“We’ve got some young players that are starting to play well, which is really cool to see,” said Herfindahl. “I think it’s optimistic looking for the future.”
The key for now will likely continue to be Swanson, however. And for Monti’s No. 1 player, the 89 was a continuance of a recent upward trend.
“Natalie’s really turned it around here the last week,” said Herfindahl. “We’ve been working with her swing, and it’s made a huge impact.”
The junior golfer said they’ve worked on adjusting her grip to help her make more solid contact and to straighten her follow through. She definitely saw continued progress during her round on Monday.
“It was a lot better,” she said. “I’m moving toward the right direction.”
Both Herfindahl and Swanson believe that the junior could be a contender for the state tournament if she keeps her game moving in the right direction. Herfindahl said at the pre-section meet, Swanson easily left 10 strokes out on the course. Those 10 strokes alone would’ve moved her into the top five.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets herself in the 80s [at sections],” said Herfindahl. “She’s got a chance to get herself maybe an option into the state tournament. I’m still optimistic there.”
Meanwhile, Swanson said Monday evening that the home meet was likely the highlight of the season thus far for Monti. It was also a reward for a renewed focus for the Magic.
“I think we’ve all made it a focus to play smarter, and to make smarter decisions out there,” said Swanson.
Herfindahl believes those decisions could be the difference between Monti reaching its goals this season or coming up just short again. Monti aspires to make the second day of the section meet, which they haven’t done in some time. The coach said getting the scores down to the point of making that a reality may be more a matter of good strategy than good swings.
“The difference between the top girls and the bottom girls is nothing but strategy. They’re playing it smarter,” said Herfindahl. “To me that’s a good thing, because our girls can bridge that gap pretty easily.”
The other key factor seems to be confidence. And after a tough start to the season, that appears to be growing for the Magic.
Swanson said that both better weather and lower scores have helped the girls turn their mindset in the last couple of weeks.
Both Swanson and the coach agreed that the sun shining seems to put the Magic in a better mood, and Swanson said that definitely pays dividends on the golf course.
“Going into a round in a good mood always helps,” she said. “And it’s so much more enjoyable when we’re not fighting against the wind.”
Now, the focus is on keeping the good vibes rolling through the next few weeks so the Magic can head into the section meet feeling good about their games, like they did en route to Monday’s 373.
“It’s such a mentally tough game,” said Swanson, talking about the importance of putting together a few more good team scores in the next few weeks. “Being confident going into sections will always help us do better.”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]