LONGMONT — Jackson Solem had to come back from three strokes behind the leader on Day 2 to win his first Class 4A golf state championship.
He always felt like he would win, but the 2015 state tournament was a nerve-racking two days.
Now that he's a senior, the defending champion is hoping that his hard work from then to now will help make a potential second title less stressful. Getting back to 4A's golf pinnacle has been on his mind since he took the 2015 trophy home nearly a year ago.
"Winning last year has just shown me how much more I want it this year," Solem said. "It was just such a great feeling. I've been working twice as hard as I was last year because that feeling inspired me to do it. I've done everything possible to make sure there are no variables this time around and to try and make my game as dependable as possible day after day."
Hoping to stay on top for the prep season, Solem ramped up his travel competition schedule this summer and worked with his coaches more than usual, with a particular emphasis on his short game. With a 3-under 69 to win the Northern League opener at the Olde Course in Loveland on Thursday, he's already off to a good start. He had seven birdies on the round but felt he could have gone lower.
A student at Longmont Christian School, where he also plays basketball, Solem plays golf for Silver Creek High School. He has verbally committed to play at the University of Denver next year. So what about having a target on his back as a senior?
"I haven't even thought about that, honestly," Solem said. "You still have to play golf either way so it hasn't really changed anything. You're still just another guy in the field. It's my senior year and golf has been such a big part of my life so I'm trying to enjoy it more since it's going to be the last of everything. I've had such good experiences that I'm just trying to make the most of this final run."
The Silver Creek Raptors have finished top three in three of four years since winning the 4A state title in 2011. With Solem and a pair of other state qualifiers - senior Deitrich Berning and sophomore T.J. Shehee - returning in 2016, the team could likely be a title contender again this season.
"As a coach, it's exciting because we have so much opportunity and our guys still have a lot of room to grow," Raptors head coach Ryan Williams said. "We also have a freshman in Garrett Stansel who is already shooting in the low 80s, high 70s. We have work to do but I think the top four or five we have are solid and have a good chance to go back to state and take second, maybe even higher."