Gina Hirsch said her 20th season of coaching girls golf and 31st year overall at Highland High School will be bittersweet because it will be her final one.
“After 31 years of coaching, I will finally hang it up and it will be really sad,” said the veteran coach and teacher, who also coached softball and basketball at HHS. “You love kids and that’s why you do this job. This will be 31st year of coaching a sport and my thing when I was younger was I wanted to give back after all the coaches that helped me out. I hope I have accomplished that. I’ve worked with some tremendous kids and some tremendous parents.”
For Hirsch, her golfers always stand out for their athletic abilities, but their academic achievements also shine very bright.
“These kids are consistently ranked in the top of the class, so we not only have athletes, but we have smart athletes which is the greatest combination in the world,” she said.
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Hirsch feels hopeful with the kids that she has in the fold for her final season at the helm of the HHS Lady Bulldogs girls golf program. The success for the Lady Bulldogs all starts with a talented trio in seniors Rece Portell and Gabi Berolatti, and junior Audrey Wilke.
“Those three are pretty strong golfers and can go pretty low with their scores,” Hirsch said. “They have that timing, and when they hit that golf ball they are driving it over 200 yards — like 250, 260 yards; that is pretty doggone far. All three of them play other sports so they are competition-ready and not scared to compete.”
Portell has shot in the high 30s this summer and has a good shot to qualify for state after coming up just short the past two years. It would be an even more special accomplishment because it would make her a state qualifier in all three sports seasons. She has not only qualified, but she has also placed at state in girls basketball (third place in Class 3A in 2016) in the winter and on the track (fourth place in the 4 x 800 in 2016) in the spring.
“Rece gets a ton of momentum from that little body,” Hirsch said. “She hits the ball far and it’s all about speed with the golf club. But it’s also timing and she is a natural athlete. She is a good team leader and a good kid who is organized and smart. We really want to see Rece get to state because if she gets to state, she will be a three-sport state qualifier. That’s pretty tough to do in today’s world because most kids are specialized and instead of enjoying the high school experience, they are specializing in one sport.”
Wilke has been on the verge of sub-40 rounds and returns after posting a strong sophomore campaign. Wilke is also a successful multiple-sport athlete after leading the Highland girls soccer team in goals last spring with 13 goals and a 14-6-3 season.
“Audrey also has that athletic body and hits the ball a long way. She plays two sports and had a great soccer season,” Hirsch said.
Berolatti has come along nicely with her game and was recently cleared after having reconstructive surgery on her right knee to repair a torn ACL.
“She has taken some lessons this summer and has played a lot of softball, so she knows how to turn on balls and has the ability to drive the ball,” Hirsch said. “She was out for a while with the ACL but she’s coming back as strong as I have ever seen her. Right away, she started taking lessons and right away started chipping and putting before school was out (last spring). She did everything she could to get back as soon as possible. What more could you ask for as a coach?”
Hirsch will need a fourth player to step up out of a cluster of kids to earn the fourth spot in the starting lineup. Likely candidates are junior Geena Budwell, junior Kenneday Klucker, sophomore Meridith Kleinmann and freshman Claire Korte.
“There are some pretty good kids in that group,” Hirsch said. “Now who is going to step up and take that No. 4 position? That’s up to them. They have got to earn it and it’s going to come down to who has played the most this summer, who is smart on the golf course, and who takes everything we’ve been working on with them and puts it together. But we need to solidify that No. 4 position with a 45 or 46.
“The fourth player is going to be the key to our success so we really need somebody to step up. And if they get it going, a lot of good things could happen for Bulldog golf this season.”
Also on the roster are sophomore Lia Basden and freshmen Hannah Wilkes-Null, Allison Workman and Barbara Meguire.
Hirsch wanted to give kudos to Highland Country Club President Gary Bargetzi opening HCC up to the public instead of just being a closed country club.
“That has helped get more kids interested in playing golf and that leads to more competition which will in turn help the program,” Hirsch said. “That is really going to help girls and boys golf here in the future. We have always had some strong kids but maybe we get more strong kids because we’ve got more kids interested in a great sport for the rest of their lives. This is a lifelong sport and we want the kids to love golf and share that love later on with their kids and their grandkids.”
Hirsch said rules that are learned in golf can also be applied to life.
“We can teach kids through the game of golf how to be honest, how to maintain tempers, how to follow rules, and how to be good all-around people,” she said. “I got into golf from the help of my dad wanting to pass on his knowledge to me, and now I think I’ve passed on my knowledge to the kids. It’s a cycle that keeps on going and it’s a neat cycle.”