How Sandusky won regional championship in inaugural season, became ‘excited about golf’

SANDUSKY — Shortly after answering the question, Helena Long grasped that she was part of history.

The senior on the Sandusky girls golf team was waiting to tee off during a regional tournament when an opponent initiated some small talk.

“I remember on one of the first couple holes, someone asked, ‘Oh, what regional were you in last year?’ ” Long said. “I was like, ‘Well, this is our first year.’ And they were kind of thrown off by that.”

Every school participates in regionals. But the Wolves didn’t have a team before 2023. So, this was their first-ever postseason appearance.

“When that kind of set in, like, ‘These teams don’t even know who we are’, I realized, ‘We’re here and we’re making history,'” Long said.

Sandusky’s girls golf team debuted this fall, finishing its inaugural season with a Division 4 regional championship and a state finals berth.

“The whole (experience) was just so crazy,” senior Sophia Umbreit said. “But it was so much fun and helped grow my love for the sport. I was able to play with people that I consider my best friends and we succeeded as a team. It really taught me a lot about hard work and leadership.”

The roster consisted of six girls in Long, Umbreit, Ruby Trepkowski, Makenzie Kreger, Eva Long and Micayla Sopha.

“It was just fun to watch them perform,” Sandusky coach Jaime Nicol said. “And too see them improve over the season.”

It was Nicol who founded the program last summer. Ironically, she first got the idea while coaching a different sport.

“In the spring, I was coaching softball and a couple of the girls were golfing already,” said Nicol, who is also a teacher at Sandusky. “So, it happened to be that I already had some really good athletes who knew how to golf. They just needed somebody to put together a team for them.”

For example, Umbreit and Helena Long had spent the past two seasons with the boys golf team. However, they rarely had opportunities to compete in tournaments. Nicol sought to change that.

“There was a lot of work, but it wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought it would be,” Nicol said. “(Athletic director) Al DeMott was on board right away, because he knew there was (enough) interest for it.”

Talk of forming a girls golf team wasn’t new at Sandusky. It’s just that prior conversations had never materialized.

“I think we’d always had enough (interest) to at least have a four-person varsity team,” Umbreit said. “But it was hard to find some extra people, just because so many people play other sports. There are a lot of girls who do volleyball or cross country, so it’s hard to get people away from those sports.”

“Once I thought about it, I did some research online,” Nicol said. “I knew there were a couple teams locally like Cass City, Caro and Bad Axe. I started looking at their schedules and seeing the teams they played to see if it would even be worthwhile.”

It was. So, she put together a report for DeMott on the feasibility of launching a program.

“He took that to school board and they approved it,” Nicol said. “We went out and — there were so many generous people who donated to our program to help us get off the ground.”

Because of these contributions, every girl on the team had their own set of clubs.

All six players made considerable strides, from senior veterans like Umbreit, to the lone freshman in Sopha, who had no prior experience.

“When we started, I didn’t think it would be anything like this,” Helena Long said. “Now, looking back, it’s something that I’m going to remember forever.”

Her favorite memory is the regional tournament – specifically, how it ended.

“We watched Makenzie Kreger make a putt for par, which (clinched) regionals for us,” Helena Long said. “I remember just looking at Sophia Umbreit — we just looked at each other and started jumping up and down. That’s probably the most excited I’ve ever been.”

“It took lots of hard work (to achieve that),” Trepkowski said. “We were always practicing. We were always at the golf course and working as a team. I know it’s an individual sport, but you have to support your teammates as well.”

Trepkowski, along with Nicol, made sure to highlight assistant coaches Karole Mezo and Tim Wrathell.

“Even though it was a team effort, those two really (did a lot for us) together,” Nicol said.

Next year’s roster will look a bit different, with Helena Long and Umbreit set to graduate this spring. But the foundation they helped build has set the Wolves on a promising path.

“I’m just looking forward to getting better,” Trepkowski said. “And to get more girls on the team … I want (future players) to like it as much as I do.”

“Hopefully, we get more girls excited about golf,” Nicol said. “It’s a lifelong sport and something you can always do no matter how old you are. I’m hoping that more kids peek interest in that because it’s fun. And if we can make some lifelong golfers, I think that’s a win, too.”

Contact Brenden Welper at Follow him on Twitter @BrendenWelper.

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