One for the thumb.
That’s the quest for coach Craig Rogers’ Regis Jesuit boys golf program, which enters the 2014 campaign — the first of the 2014-15 prep athletic seasons to open — with a chance to claim a fifth straight Class 5A state championship.
With three members of last season’s juggernaut that won the title by 23 strokes set to start Division I careers and only senior Jack Lazzeri back, climbing to the top this season should pose more of a challenge for the Raiders.
But depth — as it always seems — is in Regis Jesuit’s favor, even as it has the huge task of replacing University of Kansas-bound Spencer Painton and University of Denver recruits Jake Kelley and Chris Korte, all key parts of the past two state winners.
“They aren’t as heralded in the junior tournament circuit certainly, but I think we have a lot of strong team guys,” Rogers said of his new group.
“I think they are motivated to carry the torch; they have the pressure of winning four in a row and they don’t want to be the ones to spoil all of that. They know they have big shoes to fill, but the main thing is, we can have the fewest strokes at the state tournament, but if we are jerks, we’ve missed the whole point of being part of a team.
“Hopefully that’s the kind of ethic these guys will show and have fun doing it.”
The shoes seem to be more than “big” by numbers alone. Last season’s 23-stroke victory skews things a bit, but Regis Jesuit has won the past four 5A crowns by an average of nearly 11 strokes, had two golfers claim individual state titles — Painton in 2013 and Gus Lundquist in 2011 — and recorded six top-three individual finishes.
The new group of Raiders might not be as spectacular, but they’ve shown Rogers a selflessness that bodes well for team success.
Lazzeri — admittedly nervous about joining the group of experienced players on the Regis Jesuit varsity last season — quietly carded solid rounds of 78 and 75 at state that put him 26th overall.
Rogers is counting on an improved Lazzeri to also provide leadership to help a group bolstered by juniors Andrew McCormick and Bennett Rogers, seniors John Kane and Carter Alcock — both ice hockey players — and several young players who made their presence known in tryouts Aug. 4-5.
Highlands Ranch, Boulder and Cherry Creek have Rogers’ attention as title challengers, but he’s always wary, especially of teams in his own Continental League, which has won 12 of the past 13 5A state titles.
“Somebody always comes out of nowhere,” Rogers said.
Cherry Creek should again be the standard in the Centennial League in 2014, but some city squads could make things interesting.
Coming off a third-place league finish last season, Cherokee Trail could make a run at the No. 2 spot with the return of its only 5A state qualifier — promising sophomore Bradley Scalia — plus four other players with one or more seasons of varsity experience to their credit.
Scalia shot an even-par 72 in the first round of state at Murphy Creek Golf Course and carded a 6-over 78 in the closing round to tie for 17th overall, easily securing the best finish for a Cherokee Trail golfer in program history.
Senior Mitchell Nevin is one season removed from a trip to state, seniors Alex Anderson and Zach Goldsmith boast plenty of varsity experience and junior Ji Woo Jang posted Cherokee Trail’s best score on several occasions last season, giving the Cougars a group that knows how to play well.
Coach Randy Smith’s Grandview team needs its considerable youth to grow up quickly if the Wolves want to keep their now accustomed place in the top half of the league.
Three seniors graduated, including longtime fixtures and state qualifiers Devyn Solano and Kyle Carr, along with Chaad Tam, leaving sophomore Danny Taggart as the lone returning regular. Senior Nate Lewis and junior Mason Jowsey appear able to hold their own at the varsity level.
Smoky Hill has a pair of returning state qualifiers in junior Paul Cleveland and sophomore Kyle Colen. Cleveland recorded the Centennial League’s first hole-in-one in at least 12 years last season and finished just outside the league’s top 10, while Colen earned valuable state experience.
Eaglecrest has a new arrival in talented freshman Davis Bryant, a standout on the junior golf circuit who just finished tied for 11th at the CJGA Junior Series Championship tournament at Parker’s Black Bear Golf Course.
Coach Merlin Johnson’s Rangeview team remains a solid entry in the EMAC, while juniors Luke Hemphill and Joseph Miller lead the way on a small Gateway squad for coach Brian Dossey.
Notes: The Class 5A state tournament is scheduled for Sept. 29-30 at Colorado Springs Country Club. Last season’s tournament was played at Aurora’s Murphy Creek Golf Course, which stepped in to hold the tournament after the original site — CommonGround G.C. on the Aurora-Denver border — was unplayable due to massive flooding last September. …For the second straight season, the four regional state qualifying tournament fields will be decided by the final regular season standings of each league. Two league champions will be in the group playing at each of the four 5A regionals and were shuffled this year. The Centennial League is the host for the Southern Region on Sept. 15 at Wellshire Golf Course, with the Southern League’s No. 1 team also on hand, while Denver hosts the Central Region on Sept. 15 at Green Valley Ranch C.C. that will also include the Continental League champion. The Jefferson County runs the Western Region tournament Sept. 15 with Front Range League No. 1 scheduled to play, while the EMAC is the Northern Region host, but a date and course have not been firmed up yet.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2014 AURORA BOYS GOLF KEY DATES, INFORMATION
Key dates: Aug. 4 — Practice begins; Aug. 7 — First tournaments allowed; Sept. 15-19 — Regional tournaments (4 sites: Southern – Sept. 15, Wellshire Golf Course; Central – Sept. 15, Green Valley Ranch G.C.; Western – Sept. 15, Raccoon Creek G.C.; Northern – TBD); Sept. 29-30 — State tournaments (5A, Colorado Springs C.C.; 4A, Walking Stick, Pueblo)
5A Regionals (based on final league standings): Southern (Centennial host league, Sept. 15 at Wellshire Golf Course) – Centennial Nos. 1, 5, 9; Southern Nos. 1, 5, 9; Front Range Nos. 2, 6, 10; Jeffco Nos. 2, 6, 10; Colorado Springs Metro Nos. 3, 7, 11; EMAC Nos. 3, 7, 11; Continental Nos. 4, 8, 12; Denver Nos. 4, 8, 12; Central (Denver host league, Sept. 15 at Green Valley Ranch G.C.) — Continental Nos. 1, 5, 9; Denver Nos. 1, 5, 9; Centennial Nos. 2, 6, 10; Southern Nos. 2, 6, 10; Jeffco Nos. 3, 7, 11; Front Range Nos. 3, 7, 11; Colorado Springs Nos. 4, 8, 12; EMAC Nos. 4, 8, 12; Northern (EMAC host league, TBD) — Colorado Springs Metro Nos. 1, 5, 9; EMAC Nos. 1, 5, 9; Continental Nos. 2, 6, 10; Denver Nos. 2, 6, 10; Centennial Nos. 3, 7, 11; Southern Nos. 3, 7, 11; Jeffco Nos. 4, 8, 12; Front Range Nos. 4, 8, 12; Western (Jeffco host league, Sept. 15 at Raccoon Creek G.C.): Jeffco Nos. 1, 5, 9; Front Range Nos. 1, 5, 9; Colorado Springs Nos. 2, 6, 10; EMAC Nos. 2, 6, 10; Continental Nos. 3, 7, 11; Denver Nos. 3, 7, 11; Centennial Nos. 4, 8, 12; Southern Nos. 4, 8, 12
Aurora coaches: Aurora Central — Larry Taylor; Cherokee Trail — Troy Flores; Eaglecrest — Stan Adams; Gateway — Brian Dossey; Grandview — Randy Smith; Hinkley — Andy Robinson; Overland — Bert Dalton; Rangeview — Merlin Johnson; Regis Jesuit — Craig Rogers; Smoky Hill — Jim Riesenman; Vista PEAK — Michael Dougherty
Aurora golfers to watch: Alex Anderson, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Davis Bryant, Eaglecrest, fr.; Paul Cleveland, Smoky Hill, jr.*; Kyle Colen, Smoky Hill, soph.*; Zach Goldsmith, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Luke Hemphill, Gateway, jr.; Mason Jowsey, Grandview, jr.; John Kane, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Jack Lazzeri, Regis Jesuit, sr.*; Nate Lewis, Grandview, sr.; Andrew McCormick, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Joseph Miller, Gateway, jr.; Mitchell Nevin, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Bennett Rogers, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Bradley Scalia, Cherokee Trail, soph.*; Raymond Simanjuntak, Rangeview, jr.; Danny Taggart, Grandview, soph.
* — Returning 5A state qualifier