The participation level hasn't exactly surged for the Skyline girls golf team this spring.
A year ago, 14 players hit the links for the Falcons, and second-year coach Meredith Bender has about 15 out for the squad this year.
But even with the loss of three key seniors from last year's squad, including state qualifier Danielle Mercure, Bender and the Falcons can't help but feel like this season is the one where the title-rich program can put itself back in the mix by qualifying a full team for state after a rare miss last year.
"I think we'll have at least two girls who can be our leaders," Bender said this week as her team began formal practices, even if those sessions were limited to the great indoors due to snow-covered golf courses. "If we can get just one more (to shoot low), I think we have a chance. ... I think we have girls who are determined enough to do it this year."
Part of Bender's optimism is due to those aforementioned team leaders -- sophomore Adara Pauluhn and senior Janti Klimecki. Pauluhn burst onto the scene last year with a solid freshman campaign that ended with a 32nd-place finish at the Class 5A state tournament. Klimecki, meanwhile, has Bender "excited to see some numbers that she'll put up this year" after rounding out the Falcons' varsity last year along with Pauluhn and the three graduated players.
But what rounds out Bender's optimism is the experience level overall in the program. Of last year's 14-player roster, many of the players were new to the game. But the team -- the St. Vrain Valley School District's only one for girls golf -- attracted more interest from more experienced area players like newcomers Claire McPeak, a freshman from Alexander Dawson, and Alyssa Ashton, a junior from Erie.
"It should be a good rebuilding year for us," Bender said.
At the top of the lineup, the sky is the limit for Pauluhn.
She shot a 78 on the first day of the state tournament last year before a second-day 86 led to a slide down the leaderboard. Pauluhn admits she let herself get lost a bit in the excitement of the big stage, something she worked on during summer tournament play over the offseason.
"I learned from that and hopefully I can improve and not make that mistake again," Pauluhn said. "When you get too excited ... it affects you."
Bender, who played at Division-III Coe College in Iowa, sees a bright future for her new team leader if she can master the mental aspects of the game.
"She's only a sophomore," Bender said. "She's got a lot of time to grow. She's on the right path to becoming a fabulous golfer."
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