News that the Class 5A boys state golf tournament would be in town at CommonGround Golf Course was well received around Aurora, which could be the hub of boys golf for the entire 2017 season.
Between two-time defending state champion Regis Jesuit and Eaglecrest senior Davis Bryant, Aurora programs have the ability to sweep team and individual titles when the quick-moving season comes to a conclusion Oct. 2-3 with the 5A state tournament contested on home soil.
Longtime Raiders coach Craig Rogers has back half of his state-winning team from last season in seniors Cal McCoy and Drew Anderson, who hope to lead the program to what would be its seventh state championship in the past eight years.
“I like our odds; we have a lot of sophomores who have stepped up and some seniors who have been getting better,” McCoy said. “If we just stay focused throughout the year, I think we have a good shot.”
McCoy knows how to get it done as he’s been part of Regis Jesuit’s state-winning team in each of the past two years and comes in with a game that’s better than ever. He comes into the season after representing Colorado at the Junior America’s Cup and a berth in the Junior PGA Championship tournament.
On the first day of the season — after he shot a 6-under-par in the Continental League opener — McCoy announced his verbal commitment to the University of Denver.
Anderson helped boost the Raiders in his first state appearance with a sixth-place finish, bolstered by a round of 1-under-par on the final day that was crucial for the team. He showed his game is in fine form with a 3-under in the first round of Regis Jesuit’s tryouts in the midst of a driving rainstorm.
Seniors Jake Pendergast and Cameron Kirke have bided their time in the past few years and appear ready to play prominent roles, while Rogers expects junior Walker Fuller to contribute significantly although he missed tryouts due to illness.
“We have seniors in the top four spots right now, so I’m feeling very good about this year,” Rogers said.
Sophomores Bo Wardynski and Cole McCoy — Cal’s younger brother — offer hope for Regis Jesuit’s future as well.
Eaglecrest coach Stan Adams is on the other end of the spectrum with a very young team, but he has a huge senior piece in Bryant, a three-time state qualifier who finished a career-best second last year.
Bryant is eager for the season to arrive, even as it comes at the end of a long string of summer competition. Eaglecrest’s tryouts came just a couple of days after he returned to Colorado after a three-week stretch of play in which he competed in the U.S. Junior Am, Junior America’s Cup and Junior PGA Championship.
The Colorado State commitment is set to take aim at his third straight Centennial League individual title and then take on a CommonGround course he believes gives him an outstanding chance to win his first state title.
“Tied for 30th, tied for 12th and second, there’s really nowhere else I can go but first place,” Bryant said of his career upward trend at the state tournament.
Cherokee Trail is now under the guidance of Jason Leclaire, who has been with the program for more than a decade as an assistant, but has taken over for Troy Flores as head coach.
The Cougars move on without four-time state qualifier Bradley Scalia, who earned a scholarship to play at Johnson & Wales in North Miami, but senior Jack Stephenson and sophomore Beam Boonta return from a team that finished third in the Centennial League standings.
Even without Scalia — who finished second behind Bryant in last season’s individual league standings and won a regional championship — Leclaire believes Cherokee Trail will battle for a similar spot in the league in 2017. The growth in game and demeanor of Stephenson and Boonta, who both finished in the top 19 individually last season in the Centennial League and played in regionals, is a big boost to the program.
The Cougars’ top five players were fairly clear cut after tryouts, but a very tight pack should create internal competition all season long and help produce the most competitive lineup come regionals.
“One thing I would like to add is more intrateam competitiveness,” Leclaire said. “Historically, it has been based on tournaments, but I like them to have the chance to compete in practice and go one player versus one player. The pressure cooker makes a big difference.”
Grandview also has a new head coach in Will Dodd, who has been an assistant coach under Mary Danielson with the school’s girls team, which won the 5A state championship in 2016. Dodd took over the Grandview boys program after longtime coach Randy Smith departed for Cherry Creek.
The Wolves enter the season with no returning state qualifiers, as their state tournament representation from last season — Danny Taggart and Brandon Armitage — graduated. Taggart was a three-time state qualifier.
Seniors Clay Wamser, Charlie Hall and Jack Cooper each have varsity experience, however, and Dodd expects them to lead the way while a trio of freshmen might make their presence felt early. Cooper played in all five Centennial League tournaments last season for Grandview, while Hall was in three and Wamser two.
“A lot of these guys have ability, now it’s just trying to teach them how to score and manage their game,” Dodd said. “We’ll be needing our younger kids to step up next year, so another goal would be to help them develop.”
Smoky Hill coach Jim Riesenmen is fortunate to return a state qualifier in junior Christopher Kennedy, who has made it twice. Kennedy earned second team All-Centennial League honors last season with his 12th-place finish in the individual standings.
Vista PEAK came into the EMAC last season and won the South Division title and finished second behind Prairie View after two major tournaments.
The Bison saw head coach Michael Dougherty depart, but left things in good shape for new coach Michael Martikonis. Junior Sha Jefferson became the program’s first 4A state qualifier as a freshman in 2015 and is determined to return after a frustrating performance in regional qualifying last season. Junior Quezdon Ivey and sophomore Bruce Cooper solidify a lineup that has plenty of varsity experience.
Vista PEAK’s arrival bumped Rangeview — which had dominated the EMAC South since its advent — to second and veteran Raiders coach Merlin Johnson knows his Raiders have a tall task again in trying to catch up.
Senior Levi Robinson, a varsity veteran, is Rangeview’s clear No. 1 player and has the tools to make a run at a state berth. Junior Tyler Philipich has varsity experience and junior Tristan Sommers is an intriguing newcomer who didn’t come out for the team last year.
Gateway had a 5A state qualifier last season in Michael Milton, who broke a drought of nearly a decade for the program. Milton graduated, but his younger brother, Garrison, could continue the tradition this season.
Garrison Milton tied his brother for sixth place at the second EMAC major tournament last season and should finish high on the leaderboard again this season to lead coach Brian Dossey’s group.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2017 AURORA BOYS GOLFERS TO WATCH
Aurora golfers to watch: Drew Anderson, Regis Jesuit, sr.*; Beam Boonta, Cherokee Trail, soph.; Davis Bryant, Eaglecrest, sr.*; Bruce Cooper, Vista PEAK, soph.; Jack Cooper, Grandview, sr.; Walker Fuller, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Landyn Garcia, Eaglecrest, fr.; Charlie Hall, Grandview, sr.; Quezdon Ivey, Vista PEAK, jr.; Sha Jefferson, Vista PEAK, jr.; Christopher Kennedy, Smoky Hill, jr.*; Cameron Kirke, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Cal McCoy, Regis Jesuit, sr.*; Cole McCoy, Regis Jesuit, soph.; Garrison Milton, Gateway, soph.; Jake Pendergast, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Tyler Philipich, Rangeview, jr.; Levi Robinson, Rangeview, sr.; Garrett Schmidt, Eaglecrest, soph.; Tristan Sommers, Rangeview, jr.; Jack Stephenson, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Clay Wamser, Grandview, sr.; Bo Wardynski, Regis Jesuit, soph.
* — Returning Class 5A state qualifier
Key dates and information on the 2017 Aurora boys golf season, here.