CORTEZ - Vail blue will be very well-represented at the 3A state golf tournament in about two weeks.
That's because the so-called small schools stood very tall at 3A regionals at Cortez's Conquistador Golf on Tuesday. Vail Christian golf, representing a school with a whopping student body of 103, finished two strokes off the 3A Western Slope regional title, won by Aspen (530 students, according to the CHSAA bulletin).
The Saints qualified four golfers - Robby Bowles, Cooper Gould, Tony Clark and Parker Poage - for the state tournament in two weeks at the Pinehurst Country Club - no, not that one - in Denver. And the Vail Mountain School's Harrison Alonzo is also making a repeat appearance, giving Eagle County golf a quintet of players for state.
No bubble for you
Bowles is the only senior of the five, and he had until Tuesday a history of cutting it close when it came to state qualifying. The previous two years, Bowles earned second-alternate status at regionals and had to wait for a phone call or an email to hear that he had qualified for state.
Bowles simplified the process elegantly by firing a 75, which was not only well within the cut for state but also makes him the 3A regional champion, thank you very much.
"I made it myself," Bowles said, jokingly.
The Saints senior is only the second male golfer to win a regional crown from the county's four schools - 4A Battle Mountain's Cameron Brown did so in 2009.
Bowles, starting on the 10th, birdied his first two holes for a dream start to his round. He said he was feeling pretty comfortable about making the state cut at the turn, though he thought the regional title was out of the question after double-bogeying the par-5 fourth.
As it turned out, the hardest-ranked hole on the course beat the tar out of most of the field and Bowles' 75 was a winner.
"I made some putts," Bowles said. "I've been struggling with my putter."
Vail Christian's depth was on display at Conquistador, as Gould put up a 79 for his second trip to the big dance in as many years. Sophomore Clark and junior Poage both came home in 80.
For Clark, it was particularly sweet, given that he missed the state cut by one stroke last year.
"I think a lot of it was a mental jump," Clark said. "It was figuring out how to score even though it was a rough day, just hanging in there and not giving up."
And that's a good attribute to have as state looms. For the first time in school history, Vail Christian will be competing as a team at state with four qualifiers - three is the minimum.
"This is fantastic," Vail Christian coach Chris Coleman said. "All these boys played great, even those who didn't get to compete in regionals. The boys stepped up their game. We set out specific goals for each of them, and they met or exceeded expectations."
New book needed
Vail Mountain's Harrison has carried around a black book with him for the first three years of his high school golfing career. In it, Alonzo has taken notes on the tee boxes, fairways and greens of a good portion of Colorado's links.
He used the last pages of this precious book during Monday's practice round at Conquistador.
"I was just looking at tricky spots, whether or not you should try to carry doglegs," Alonzo said. "Driver or 3-wood off the tee? Do the greens go back to front, front to back or left to right?"
The studying worked. Alonzo carded an 81, and the junior is going to state for the second consecutive year.
"I grounded out a few pars," he said. "I had two birdie putts I didn't make, but I still made it to state."
And could we get the guy a new book, please?
Regionals don't have leaderboards like one sees on television on the PGA Tour, so one doesn't know where one is in relation to the field. But Alonzo continued a new VMS tradition of birdieing his final hole to ice a state berth.
He finished on the par-4 ninth with a driver on a blind tee shot. Alonzo knocked his 52-degree wedge to within 5 feet and made a tricky downhill putt to finish.
With any regional tournament comes heartbreak. VMS freshmen Ben Barron and Oliver Pesso finished with scores of 85 and 86, respectively. That was just outside the state cut, but it's hard to imagine those two won't be back in the hunt next fall.
Karl Norris led Battle Mountain with an 81, while Hayden Floyd topped Eagle Valley with an 88. The 4A state cut was 79.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.