STANLEY — Tahlia Walton and Savanna Anderson have taken different paths.
But their two roads to college athletics intersected on Wednesday as they each signed their letters of intent to play sports in college. Walton signed to play basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee while Anderson inked her commitment to golf at Winona State University.
Eyes on the prize
Walton remembers the exact moment she first noticed.
Two summers ago, while playing in an offseason basketball tournament in the Twin Cities, Walton was lining up at the free throw line awaiting a free throw when she glanced into the crowd and saw them — college coaches and scouts, eagerly watching her game.
At that moment Walton was hoping one school in particular was watching — UW-Milwaukee. Sure enough, the Panthers were and soon after that tournament Walton received a phone call from Panthers coach Kyle Rechlicz and the two have had mutual interest ever since.
Walton likes the city of Milwaukee, as well as the family-oriented team atmosphere with the Panthers. She also had a good source for more info on the program in the form of Stanley-Boyd graduate and UW-Milwaukee sophomore guard Jamie Reit.
Reit, a three-time Chippewa County Player of the Year during her career with the Orioles, was able to answer any questions Walton had on the program, making the decision an easy one.
“She was very encouraging,” Walton said of Reit. “She told me everything I wanted to hear about Milwaukee.”
Walton transferred to Stanley-Boyd after her sophomore season from Eau Claire Memorial. She was ruled ineligible to play at the varsity level for her junior season by the WIAA, using last season playing junior varsity to work on her game and become a more well rounded player.
“She kept a positive attitude and tried to find the positive side of things,” Stanley-Boyd girls basketball coach Alison Becker said of Walton’s work last season.
“I was able to figure out what works for me, what doesn’t and what I need to work on and what I can bring into the season,” Walton said.
Walton will get the chance to help a young Oriole team move up the Western Cloverbelt Conference ladder this season, beginning with Stanley-Boyd’s season opener on Nov. 16 at home against Greenwood. It’s a moment she’s been waiting more than a year for.
“I had to find it internally in myself and find those things I needed to fix,” Walton said. “Now I’m excited to show what I’ve been working towards.”
And with her college future secure as well, she’s thrilled to join a UW-Milwaukee program that this season features seven in-state players.
“I’m super excited to be a part of the Panther family,” Walton said.
Talent meets work ethic
Anderson has been a force for the Orioles on the links throughout her high school career, beginning as a freshman when she finished in a tie for 26th place at Division 2 sectionals in 2014. She made a big jump as a sophomore, advancing to the state tournament after tying for fifth place at sectionals and finished in a tie for 24th place at the 2015 Division 2 state championship.
Longtime Stanley-Boyd coach Jerry Allen coached Anderson for her first three high school season as well as during her youth days and said her game is tailor made for college.
“Savanna hits the ball extremely long and knows where it’s going off the tee and that’s a big advantage moving onto college because the courses are longer,” Allen said.
Allen said Anderson’s biggest improvements have come from her short game and first-year Stanley-Boyd coach Devon Wenndt added that Anderson is a natural on the links.
“She sees a lot more results from the work she puts in than other people seem to. She has a ton of natural ability, she’s a fantastic leader and has a great mentality for the game,” Wenndt said.
Anderson was strong again in her junior season, tying for seventh at sectionals and finishing three strokes behind the final individual qualifier. But it would be another near miss that would set up the Orioles for a historic 2017 campaign.
Stanley-Boyd finished in fourth place as a team at sectionals, just three strokes behind Arcadia in the final state-qualifying team position. Becker, who also teaches in the district and coaches Anderson in basketball, saw her immediate reaction after the team just missed its first-ever state appearance.
“She came to class upset after just missing state and said ‘This isn’t happening next year’,” Becker said.
It didn’t, as the Orioles team of Ella Koenig, Megan Goodman, Grace Williams, Kayla Kroeplin and Anderson dominated the first two rounds of the postseason, winning regional and sectional team championships en route to Stanley-Boyd’s first trip to state, where it finished fifth.
Anderson won a regional title before taking second at sectionals and finished tied for 12th individually at the state championship at University Ridge Golf Course in Verona. Interest in Anderson from Winona State started over the summer and Anderson capped off a big fall sports season by inking her letter of intent with the Warriors.
Allen said Anderson is the first Oriole golfer to sign to play collegiately since his daughter Becky played at Western Illinois after she graduated Stanley-Boyd in 2005, winning a Division 2 individual state title in 2004. With her combination of physical ability, mental toughness and love for the game, coach Allen believes Winona State is getting something special in Anderson.
“There’s a diamond there,” coach Allen said.
(Talia) Walton signed to play basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee while (Savanna) Anderson inked her commitment to golf at Winona State University.