Ties usually stink. Nobody likes them. They leave both sides feeling like they lost instead of sharing a win and everyone goes home with frowns affixed to their faces.
Then there was Wednesday at Wander Springs Golf Course, where the key participants each left with a 1,000-watt smile.
The two best players in the Eastern Valley Conference, Fox Valley Lutheran’s Kayla Priebe and Xavier’s Mikayla Smith, after six conference matches and Wednesday’s conference tournament, each struck the ball exactly 357 times on the season and thus shared conference player of the year honors.
“It really couldn’t have turned out better,” said Priebe, who finished with an 80 on Wednesday to capture her third straight conference meet individual title and edge her chief rival and close friend by one shot.
“It’s just awesome that we tied,” said Smith, who along with Priebe each shot a 34 this fall to share the conference nine-hole scoring record.
The Foxes won the conference meet and the overall team title as they begin their bid to make a second straight WIAA state appearance. Xavier finished second and Freedom third.
But the spotlight this day was definitely on two of the premier players in the Valley, who have forged a strong friendship over the years while going toe-to-toe for conference supremacy.
“Mikayla is a great player and I feel like I’m a really good player too,” said Priebe, “and we’re really even so it’s kind of fair it would turn out this way.”
Priebe entered the meet one shot behind Smith on the season, but took control with a 40 on the front side, while Smith came in with a 45.
“Coming into it, I definitely knew (where she stood with Priebe) and I think that kind of affected my front nine,” said Smith. “But then on the back nine I just let it go and wanted to see what would happen. Whatever happened, I’d be happy either way.”
Smith began the backside with three straight pars, including one on the 274-yard par-four third hole on the River Course, where she lost her ball after she hit her drive in the tall weeds, dropped, hit her approach to about 18 feet and made the putt for par.
“Actually, I’ve had rounds before when I’ve had a 45 and then a 35 at the end,” said Smith, “so I knew I could pull it out. And once I parred the first three, I knew there was still a chance.”
By time they concluded their 15th hole on the day, Smith had drawn even with Priebe.
And when Priebe hit her second shot wide left into the high weeds and had to take an unplayable lie on the par-five 16th, it looked like Smith would take control.
But Priebe came up with an all-world par of her own as she hit her approach to about 20 feet and made the putt for par.
“I had some ups and downs during this whole round and I just tried to keep going,” said Priebe. “I did make some good putts that helped me get going; I just knew I could never give up because Mikayla is a really tough competitor.”
Priebe took a two-shot lead with a birdie on the par-four 17th but then Smith answered when she hit her second shot on the par-five 18th, a 162-yard seven-iron, to five feet. Priebe scrambled to make par but Smith’s chance to share the conference title and claim player of the year honors slipped by when her putt was on the high side.
“The nerves got the best of me, I guess,” said Smith.
Nonetheless, having a season-long competition come down to the final hole was a special moment.
“Coming up on 18, Mikayla said ‘I feel like I’m playing on the LPGA Tour with all these people watching me, how nervous I am,’ ” said Xavier coach Steve Howe.
Priebe, too, was keeping a close eye on the scoring battle at the beginning but, like Smith, said on the back nine she just decided to let it go.
“I just wanted to play my own game and put up a round I was proud of,” said Priebe.
It was good enough for the conference meet title.
“It feels great,” she said. “I love this tournament and it feels awesome to pull through with another win.”
For the Foxes, the win marked their 10th victory in 11 tournaments this season.
“The course was really playing tough,” said FVL coach Dave Kolander. “There were some tough pin positions and it was playing long into the wind. To shoot 362, and our best score of the year is three fifty-something. So to shoot 362, I’m real happy with that.”
Many of the same teams will begin regional play Wednesday at Mid Vallee in De Pere.
“You know golf, every day is different,” said Kolander. “But we have a lot of confidence.”
EASTERN VALLEY CONFERENCE MEET
FOX VALLEY LUTHERAN 362, XAVIER 386, FREEDOM 407, WRIGHTSTOWN 417, LITTLE CHUTE 458, WAUPACA 462, BONDUEL 495
At Wander Springs GC, par 72
Top 10: 1, Kayle Priebe FVL 80; 2, Mikayla Smith X 81; 3, Noelle Koepp FVL 86; 4, (tie) Lori Meyer F and Victoria Draxler WRI 91; 6, Trystin Kluess FVL 97; 7, (tie) Michaela Pisinger X and Megan Glaeser FVL 99; 9, Kayla Haen X 100; 10, (tie) Sandy Martin F, Kim Kruckeberg F and Cora Wittmann LC 102.
Xavier: Caroline Zilisch 106.
Freedom: Jenna Gartzke 112.
Wrightstown: Sarah Lafreniere 103, Grace McMahon 108, Emily Rotzenberg 115.
Little Chute: Katie Spaeth 111, Kaitlyn Plutz 121, Anna Verbruggen 124.
Waupaca: Alexis Colden 107, Natasha Hales 113, Morgan Smith 119, Kaylee Biba 123.
Bonduel: Taylor Diemel 107, Elizabeth Schaal 118, Samantha Schaal 132, Daniel Lautenback 138.
— Mike Woods: 920-993-1000, ext. 232, or email@example.com; On Twitter @PCMikeW