FORT COLLINS | The hardware must wait until next year, but it seems likely the Cherokee Trail boys golf team will bring home something shiny at the end of the 2024 season.
The young and precocious Cougars nearly did so this season, as they finished in a tie for second place at the Class 5A boys golf state tournament that concluded Oct. 3 at Collindale G.C. in Fort Collins before they saw it slip away in a team playoff with Cherry Creek.
Regardless, coach Jason Leclaire’s team — comprised of junior Christopher O’Donnell, sophomores Brayden Forte and Dalton Sisneros and freshman Anthony Chen — fully came of age over two days.
The Cougars had already shown the ability — as demonstrated by multiple victories in Centennial League tournaments, as well as a finish in front of state champion Rock Canyon in regional play — and put on a state performance to match.
Led by Forte, who shot a 1-under-par 70 in the opening round and stayed in contention for medalist honors until Rock Canyon’s Charlie Tucker slammed the door in the back half of the final round, Cherokee Trail emerged from a group of teams that included Aurora’s other team qualifier — Regis Jesuit — on the heels of the senior-filled Jaguars, the Continental League champions.
Thanks to a much-improved second round from Sisneros — who shot plus-8 79 in the opening round and then shot a 71, the best score of the day of any of Aurora’s 11 qualifiers in the final round — a better second round from Chen and the steady play of O’Donnell (who was in his third state tournament), Forte had the final fortunes of the team in his control in the final holes.
Forte birdied Hole No. 9, made the turn and also made a birdie on No. 10 as well as on Nos. 12 and No. 16, but he ran into difficulty on the final two holes.
An unlucky break on Hole No. 17 loomed large at the end, as Forte ended up having to take a drop after his approach shot landed on a concrete cart path below the green. He chipped onto the green, then just missed a par putt and finished with a bogey. Forte had another bogey on No. 18 and the Cougars ended up in a tie with Cherry Creek, which had the same score despite not a single individual place in the top 10.
Despite a clutch putt from Chen that pumped up his Cherokee Trail teammates, the Bruins prevailed in a team playoff on Hole No. 9 in which all four players teed off and completed the hole and the top three scores were counted. The teams posed together with the second place trophy in a show of mutual respect between the two Centennial League programs who had played neck-and-neck all year.
Forte finished with a two-day total of 142 that put him in a tie with Fairview’s Miles Kuhl for second place, while Sisneros — in his first state tournament — rose from 35th after the first round into a tie for 14th at the end. O’Donnell — 62nd in 2022 and 52nd in 2021 — placed a career-best 25th and Chen tied for 42nd in his debut.
Regis Jesuit sat a stroke behind Cherokee Trail after the opening day, but coach Craig Rogers’ team of all juniors finished seven strokes behind the Cougars and in sixth place overall when the final round came to an end.
Ben Sander put himself in good position in the top 10 with his opening round of a plus-1 72 and though his score was slightly higher in the second round (74), he moved up into a tie for sixth place.
Sam Walker started off strong with an even-par 71 and slipped to an 82 in the second round to finish in a tie for 25th place with a group that included his playing partner Gregory White of Eaglecrest.
The other two Raiders improved their scores from the first day.
Roland Thornton — the only Regis Jesuit player with previous state experience — shot 75 in the second round (ending with a smile on his face after sinking a birdie putt on Hole No. 9) in a bounceback from an 83 that moved him into a tie for 40th. It was his best state finish after he was 49th as a freshman in 2021 and 44th in 2022.
Anthony Lore, the medalist at Regis Jesuit’s regional tournament, improved by two strokes with a 79 in the final round to tie for 49th.
In his second state tournament, Grandview junior Michael Rosman had himself in position for a top-10 finish until a rough final four holes. He still finished in a tie for 14th place — a huge jump from 62nd last season — with a two-day total of 150 after rounds of 72 and 78.
White — a regional medalist who tied for eighth place at last season’s state meet — shot rounds of 73 and 80 to tie for 25th and Smoky Hill sophomore Hudson Roth took 84th.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports