MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa -- The Akron-Westfield girls golf team made history a year ago.

The Westerners captured their first team state golf title with an impressive 15-stroke win over New London for the Class 1A title. However, Akron-Westfield entered this season needing to replace a pair of key graduated seniors as it looked to defend the title.

Add in cold weather for a large chunk of the season and the Westerners were playing catch-up.

"We were exactly like all the other area schools where we felt we were two to three weeks behind a normal golf year," A-W coach Todd Colt said.

Even with the loss of fifth-place state finisher Bailey Davis and Ann Hedlund, who finished tied seventh, the Westerners are following a similar arc as last year as they enter the state meet at American Legion Golf Course in Marshalltown playing some of their best golf of the season.

"We have made great strides the last two or three weeks," Colt said. "We had some experience coming back from last year, but we also had some girls that only played one year prior to this year. The last good month of practice has really helped us."

Each golf course is different, but A-W enters state having shot the second lowest team score during the regional finals with a 365. It trailed only New London's 349.

Junior Brooke Koele, who finished tied with Hedlund for seventh at state a year ago firing a 177, led four Westerners in the top eight at the regional meet by earning medalist honors with her round of 82.

She is one of five players returning for A-W who all played at state a year ago.

"After graduating two very good players last year the reality was we were probably not going to shoot the scores we did last year, but with the improvement we have made the last three or four weeks our scores are becoming more and more competitive each and every day."

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Sophomores Autumn Bundy, Kayla Johnson and Alayna Mullinix have stepped up their games this season while the team's lone senior, Danika Smith, plays a major role.

"Danika Smith has shown great leadership," Colt said. "She has imporved her game considerably but she has also been what I would call the mother hen of the group. She keeps them on task as needed.

"All five of them are playing the best they have all season."

Colt said he has seen his team consistenly get better as the season has gone on.

"I think our short game has improved the most from the beginning of the year to now," he said.

Colt said winning a state title didn't bring an influx of new golfers to the team, but it still had an impact.

"It sparked an interest in them to play more during the offseason," he said.

The Westerners enter state beginning Tuesday with the experience of last season as well as the fact that most of them play for Colt and the Westerner softball team that is a fixture at that state tournament.

"I think the key to shooting good scores down there is to manage your game and stay away from eights and nines," he said. "The girls are going to have to play smart versus hitting shot after shot without thought.

"I think it is like any sport and everyone is going to be nervous, but if you have been there once or twice your less nervous."

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