With Jefferson Academy’s Aubri Braecklein graduating after her Class 3A championship last spring, and with Holy Family senior Jessica Mason forgoing her chance for a repeat 4A title to play in the Colorado Women’s Open this week, the high school state golf championships were wide open for a new wave of talent to take the reins.
An aperture for the next shining star to pass through, on Tuesday, it was occupied by a program and player seemingly built for now and for the foreseeable future.
The opening round of state ushered in a new beginning for Erie’s girls team, which had never qualified as a team before this, and its freshman star Hadley Ashton, as both finished Day 1 of the 4A tournament at Tiara Rado Golf Course in Grand Junction with a lead in hand.
Heading into Wednesday’s final round, the Tigers are up 11 strokes on second-place Windsor, and 18 over defending champ Discovery Canyon in third.
Individually, Ashton is up one on the field after she shot 3-over-par 74, while sophomore teammate Logan Hale is two back of that sitting in third at 76.
“The feeling is a little bit of relief,” Erie coach Brandon Bird said after the round. “If you talked with Logan and you talked with Hadley, I think they would both feel like they didn’t play their best golf today. The course is really difficult. And so, what we talked about last night is don’t hit the panic button because everyone has to play this tough course. You never know when a bogey is still a good score.”
Bird relayed the message to his freshman after her bogey on No. 12, calming her down while underlining the importance of not forcing things going forward. It seemed to work well too. Ashton followed it up with two birdies over her next four holes, finishing one stroke ahead of second-place Macy Kleve of Windsor.
“I was kind of nervous, not really in the zone,” Ashton said. “Then the back-nine, coach Bird came up to me and calmed me down. And I was just thinking, just play like I usually do. Just play my game, and putts started dropping.”
The round saw eight golfers shoot under 80 in 4A, including Mead’s Timbre Shehee who sits fifth at 78, and last year’s runner-up and third-place finisher Sofia Choi of Mullen and Emily Cheng of Discovery Canyon at 79.
The individual race is already far and away more competitive than a season ago when Mason, who is playing the Colorado Women’s Open at Green Valley Ranch this week, led by eight strokes after one day en route to a landslide victory.
In the 3A tournament at Broadlands Golf Course in Broomfield, meanwhile, Peak to Peak’s Noelle Thompson finished her opening round two strokes off leader Maddy Bante of St. Mary’s Academy.
The Pumas junior, who finished 13th a year ago, shot 3-over 75, totaling five bogeys and two birdies. Other area players expected to be in contention in Wednesday’s final round include Prospect Ridge Academy freshman Hope Torres, who is in fourth at 81, and Jefferson Academy’s Samantha Duncan at 82.
“I definitely do better chasing after the leader rather than leading, so I’m right where I want to be,” Thompson said. “I don’t have the pressure of leading and I enjoy the chase.”
The 5A tournament at the Olde Course at Loveland is led by Valor Christian’s Elle Higgins at even-par 72. Katelyn Lehigh, the lone returning 2021 golf champ in the state, is three strokes back of that. And from the BoCoPreps area, Fairview’s Ava Hickey is currently tied for 17th, while Broomfield’s Hampton Traylor is at 87 and Legacy’s Ayla Milan 88.
In the 5A team race, Valor Christian leads by 13 strokes over second-place Loveland. Legacy sits 13th, Broomfield 15th.