GREELEY — There was a certain weightiness inside the final moments of the Class 4A Region 3 golf tournament at Highland Hills, the final state team qualifying spot now down to just Niwot and Windsor.
Front and center was Christopher Gunlikson, the senior who had helped put the Cougars in this spot with a brilliant back stretch. One last putt was true, completing the masterwork.
Gunlikson used a nifty chip and drained a high-stakes 5-footer on his final hole to save par as Niwot rallied to edge the Wizards for the second team qualifying spot Tuesday afternoon.
“Before my shot on that par-3, my teammates were like you need a par or birdie to beat Windsor and I was like ‘Oh, there’s the extra pressure,” Gunlikson chuckled. “Especially in high school, this was one of my biggest events. Especially with how much pressure there was today.”
Niwot beat Windsor by two strokes for second in the team race. Gunlikson finished second overall at 3-over-par 74. Sophomore teammate Emmett Shell was third at 75.
The duo led the way for the Cougars on a mild day in Greeley, both coming off near the end with their later tee times.
For his part, Gunlikson had 11 straight pars to close his round. Shell’s back-nine also went even as he carded a crucial birdie on his fourth-to-last hole.
“I knew,” Shell said about the tight team race. “It was in the back of my head, but I tried not to think about it too much.”
Gunlikson will make his third straight appearance at the state tournament in two weeks, while Niwot returns a full team after only sending the ace a year ago.
Shell, who said he has been playing golf for only the last two years, will be among the first-time qualifiers. Carlos Kipkorir (84) and Drew Stapp (87) round out the team.
“They were both very steady and deliberate in both their thoughts and in their execution,” Niwot coach Ed Weaver said of his top two players. “They really delivered today.”
Riverdale Ridge won the tournament by two strokes and will also send a full team to state. Skyline took fourth and will send a group of three — Caden Tapia (80), Declan Karch (80) and Keaton Schell (81) — which is also enough to compete as a team.
Other area state qualifiers include Longmont’s Trace Saunders (76), Centaurus’ Asa Wentworth (77) and Frederick’s Jake Chesler (81), who will make his fourth trip to state following his fourth-place state finish last fall.
The 4A tournament will be held at City Park in Denver Oct. 4-5.