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First regional trophy in school history for golf program making its third consecutive trip to state

COURTESY PHOTO: WOODBURN GIRLS GOLF - The regional champion Woodburn girls golf team — Haley Elsasser, Paris Wilhelm, Nina Scherbakov, Bailey Woolley and April Vasquez — bracketed by coaches Bill Mickel (far left) and Neil Wilhelm.For a program that has continually redefined what it means to be successful over the past three years, the Woodburn girls golf team is once again outpacing itself.

Two years after qualifying for the state championship tournament for the first time in school history, the Bulldogs have accomplished another program first — a district title.

Led by the trio of freshman Paris Wilhelm, senior Bailey Woolley and junior Haley Elsasser, the Bulldog girls put up their best scores in the program's record books at the Special District 2 championship on May 6-7 at Santiam Golf Course.

Woodburn opened the two-day tournament with a combined score of 374, a program-best, to take a 25-stroke leading heading into the second day, only to beat that score by six strokes.

The result was a final score of 742, easily outpacing the runner-up Waldport Irish, which shot a 781 to claim the other state qualifying berth to come out of the tournament.

"We're rewriting the history books in terms of our scores," head coach Neil Wilhelm said. "It's exciting. One of our goals was to finally capture a regional championship."

It was a goal in which the team had been gradually approaching over the past three seasons. The Bulldogs made team history in 2017 when it finished third in the regional tournament to make its first-ever state championship appearance. Woodburn repeated the feat a year later, moving up to second at regionals to qualify for a second year in a row.

This year, the Bulldogs finally reached the peak, a culmination of the past half-decade building the program and grooming incoming players to turn Woodburn team that was once a perennial last-place finisher into one of the top programs in the state.

The heart of the success cannot be traced to any one reason, but a myriad of

factors coalescing all at once this season.

The continued development of veteran golfers Woolley and Elsasser, along with senior teammate April Vasquez gave the Bulldogs a returning core with state championship experience this season.

Woolley and Elsasser finished back-to-back at the regional tournament in fifth and sixth place with scores of 182 and 184, respectively. Vasquez was not far behind, shooting a 199 to place 11th overall.

In addition to the strong scores, the team was also a model of consistency. Elsasser scored 92 on both days, while Woolley was 90 and 92, and Vasquez was 99 and 100.

Adding to the mix is Coach Wilhelm's daughter, who had been playing for years coming into her debut high school season and immediately took the lead as the program's top player this year. Her two-day score of 177 put her a hair above her teammates for fourth-place overall.

The quartet have been the team's top scorers throughout the 2019 season, with Woolley, Elsasser and Wilhelm each taking turns leading the team in scoring at least once in the regular season matches heading into the regional tournament.

"It's great for the competition of the team, and I think it caused everybody to really step up their game this year, which they all have," Neil Wilhelm said.

The Bulldogs' final varsity scorer, Nina Scherbakov, hit a two-day score of 253 (131, 122). And while Scherbakov's strokes were not at the level of her four teammates, it is a marked improvement from the opening of the season in which she would hit in the 140s and higher.

Another factor for the Bulldogs' success this season is one that has been felt in many of Woodburn High School's athletic programs across the board this season — dropping down to the 4A classification.

The girls golf program is only the most recent team to celebrate a banner year in Woodburn's first athletic season at the 4A level, joining the likes of the football team, girls soccer, boys basketball, girls basketball and their golfing counterparts on the boys side, which also is celebrating a league title for the first time in school history.

From here, Woodburn was scheduled to compete at the state tournament at Eagle Crest Ridge Course in Redmond on May 13-14, along with representatives from 17 other 4A schools.

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