Hunter High’s girls’ golf team is going boldly where no Wolverine golfers have gone before — to the top

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hunter High School's Charity Ralphs at Meadowbrook Golf Course in Taylorsville on Friday May 3, 2019.

Taylorsville • Four years ago, the Hunter High girls’ golf team lacked so many resources that it ran out of golf balls. It had a first-year coach in Devon Cooper, who admits she didn’t know how to manage a team.

But this season, the Wolverines are making a name for themselves in ways no other golf team — boys’ or girls’ — has in the 29-year history of the school. The Wolverines currently rank first in Class 6A’s Region 2 and are undefeated in six matches, having already clinched the region title with one tournament still to play.

The way they’ve done it is by committee. Hunter fields an entire squad of varsity players, allowing the school to compete both as a team and as individuals. Some schools in the region — including Cyprus, Granger, Hillcrest and Kearns — only have individuals competing.

And while the Wolverines don’t have the most talented individual golfers in the region, enough of their varsity team has finished high enough in tournaments to impact the whole.

“Out motto this year is ‘Together,’” Cooper told The Salt Lake Tribune while taking a stroll through Meadowbrook Golf Course. “We can do this together. We can win together.”

That message permeates across the entire team, which includes several girls who have been golfing for only one or two years. Senior Gwen Grunwald joined last year because a friend who was on the team persuaded her to do so. Before then, Grunwald had never picked up a golf club.

Now Grunwald is ranked seventh in the region and has finished among the top four of her teammates in the last four tournaments.

“I’m glad I succumbed to peer pressure,” said Grunwald, who takes 13 advanced placement classes and sacrificed a high-level French course to join the varsity squad.

Grunwald struggled in Hunter’s most recent tournament at Stonebridge, she said. But her teammates picked up the slack that day and secured the team’s sixth consecutive region tournament win. She said that depth has been a significant factor in the team’s success this season.

“It’s really nice having kind of the unpredictability so that we all balance each other out and we all support each other and all work together,” Grunwald said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hunter High School's Cierrah Peterson, Lily Brock, Peyton Newell, and Charity Ralphs at Meadowbrook Golf Course in Taylorsville on Friday May 3, 2019.

Mallerie Brown, another senior, is one of the longest tenured golfers on the team. She joined during her sophomore year after she tried out for the softball team and got cut. But on the golf team, she has the lowest average and some universities are interested in her as a recruit.

Brown feels the burden of being Hunter’s best player. She knows that when she doesn’t play a good round, it puts more pressure on her team to compensate, she said. But like Grunwald, Brown thinks the cohesiveness of the team is what sets it apart.

“I know we all have our challenges. We all have our struggles,” Brown said. “For us to come together, and we know that we can, it means everything.”

Hunter wasn’t always the golf powerhouse it has become this season. Just two years ago, it competed in a region with the likes of Davis and Syracuse high schools and Hunter wasn’t at all competitive at the time. Cooper even joked that the schools in that region “didn’t even probably care if we came.” But the shuffling of regions the Utah High School Activities Association does every two years has benefitted the Wolverines in the past two seasons.

Last year, Hunter went into the region championship tournament tied for first with Hillcrest but lost. Senior Peyton Newell, who has played golf all four years with Hunter, said that experienced galvanized the team entering this season.

“I think they just want it more,” Newell said. “I think last year it was kind of like, oh what happens, happens. But this year I think because we’ve lost, we want that win even more. So we’re trying harder and doing our best this time.”

Cooper said one of the reasons the team has been successful this year is the amount dedicated to practice. The players practice every day and also occasionally receive discounted professional lessons through a partnership with First Tee of Utah. Fundraisers over the last two years have also helped pay for equipment for her players, such as golf sets and pushcarts.

Cooper also brought in an assistant coach this season, Joe Ralphs, who has a sophomore daughter, Charity, on the varsity team. And last season she got permission from Hunter’s administration to start a junior varsity team that pays $100 less in fees and practices fewer days in an effort to introduce them to the sport gradually, she said.

But most of all, the rise in Hunter’s girls’ golf program is accredited to the willingness for its players to try a new sport and dedicate themselves to it.

“I feel like we’ve done a good job as a group trying to get better,” Cooper said. “As much as I’d like to say it’s the golf lessons, it’s the fundraising, it’s all that — if I didn’t have girls wiling to play golf, it doesn’t matter.”

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