MIDDLETON — As WIAA postseason play began for the Middleton girls golf team on Wednesday, Cardinals senior Payton Hodson knew every shot mattered.

“You have to focus on every hole,” she said. “You have to focus 100 percent on every shot. You never can give up and you have to be positive. We knew there were, hopefully, four rounds left (in the season) to play our best.”

The Cardinals’ quest to return to the state tournament started with a first-place finish at the WIAA Division 1 regional at their home course, Pleasant View Golf Course.

Middleton, ranked fifth in the state coaches’ poll, totaled 341, which was nine strokes better than surprise runner-up Madison West. Verona (354) was third and Waunakee (370) fourth. Those four teams advanced to sectional play Oct. 4 at Edelweiss Chalet Country Club in New Glarus.

Hodson and sophomore teammate Kate Meier each shot a 7-over-par 79, tying for the low score. Hodson was declared the medalist on a scorecard playoff after the two decided a playoff on the course wasn’t necessary. Verona senior Courtney Shorter was third with 81 and Waunakee junior Sam Soulier had 83 for fourth.

“I wouldn’t say we had our best day today, but the girls were able to grind it out and get the win,” said Middleton coach Becky Halverson, whose team was Division 1 state runner-up last year.

“I was proud of them for staying with it. It was tough playing conditions, with that wind. Having 1-2 shooting 79s, I can’t complain about it.”

Meier had birdies on her first and 11th holes and said she felt good about her round on the Prairie and Woods layouts.

“When we are both in the 70s, we usually have a good feeling about how the team will do,” Meier said. “As a team, we wanted to play our best, especially being on our home course. We wanted to play with ‘no regrets’ and play so we can get to where we want to be.”

Meier and Madison West junior Lillian Knetter were the leaders after nine holes, shooting 39 apiece. Halverson said she believed Meier’s round was a steppingstone for sectionals.

“Kate was more in her zone today than she has been lately,” Halverson said.

Valparaiso recruit Hodson strung together pars on holes 11 through 17 en route to a 39 on her final nine holes.

“I honestly didn’t play my best today,” Hodson said. “I struggled on the front nine. But I was able to keep it together and make a lot of pars on the back nine and stay in the 70s. My putting was pretty good. My driver was really good, which was helpful.”

Madison West first-year coach Terry Everson was ecstatic with the Regents’ second-place finish. Knetter shot 84, while sophomores Ashley Fleming and Margo Bush had 86 and 87, respectively.

“The girls shot 67 strokes lower than last year at regionals (when the Regents placed fourth),” Everson said. “It was just total focus for 18 holes and we had all five golfers below a 100. … It was definitely a surprise (to place second). The girls played really well. To be able to compete with the Veronas, Middletons and Waunakees is quite an accomplishment.”

The four golfers not on the top four teams who qualified as individuals for sectional play were Madison Memorial freshman Bridget McCarthy (90), Portage junior Anna Davidson (92), Reedsburg senior Caylee Beyer (94) and Portage freshman Sophie Denure (94).

Portage finished fifth with 379. Eight teams competed for the four sectional berths. Mount Horeb had three players and didn’t have a complete team due to an illness.

Portage coach Ed Carlson was pleased with how the Warriors played but expressed displeasure that the nearby DeForest regional had only six teams compete for four sectional spots. He believed the WIAA should have reconfigured the Middleton and DeForest regionals to a more equal number after Madison La Follette and Madison East didn’t have girls compete in DeForest, adding that his school had contacted the WIAA.

“I like to see equality and I try to fight for the girls,” Carlson said. “I thought, ‘Let’s just even out the teams.’ … I thought it was an easy fix.”

WIAA communications director Todd Clark, contacted by the State Journal, said in an email: “Madison La Follette and Madison East dropped their program in early September. Our policy is not to realign tournament groupings after the assignments have been released and programs have their competitions and practices scheduled with that information.”

Clark said suggestions for changes in policy can be made to the coaches’ advisory committee. Halverson said she is scheduled to attend a WIAA meeting next month and planned to bring up the subject.

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.