Following one season that went well in the other direction, the Regis Jesuit boys golf team got back on its regular track last season.
Coach Craig Rogers’ Raiders finished 21 strokes behind Coronado at the Class 5A state tournament in 2014, but bounced back with a clutch one-stroke victory last season to win the program’s fifth state title in six seasons.
The 2016 season — which began with practice on Aug. 8 and a regular season that opened Aug. 11 — holds promise that Regis Jesuit’s dominance in the team competition could continue, as Rogers returns half of the winning foursome from last season as part of a double-digit group of players who shot in the 70s during tryouts.
Senior Tyler Zhang, who transferred from Highlands Ranch prior to last season, leads the way after he tied for fifth at the state tournament and delivered a clutch birdie putt on Hole No. 18 at the Fort Collins Country Club. Zhang and Cherokee Trail’s Bradley Scalia have a chance to become four-time state qualifiers this season if they can make it to the Sept. 26-27 tournament at Bookcliff Country Club in Grand Junction.
Zhang said he grew significantly as a player in his first year at Regis Jesuit and is encouraged by the depth he saw at tryouts as the team seeks to replace 2016 graduates Andrew McCormick and Bennett Rogers.
“We have seven or eight players who could go to state and produce,” Zhang said. “It could be as good as last year. Andrew and Bennett are big losses, but we have so many players who can play well this year.”
A swing change affected Zhang’s game early in the summer, but he’s grown comfortable with it and it’s allowed him to narrow his misses. He hopes another good season can open some doors with college programs, possibly at Creighton with McCormick or on the East Coast.
McCoy’s poise helped him crack the lineup last season and he did his part at state with a 75 in the opening round that got Regis Jesuit off to a strong start. He ground his way to an 81 in the closing round, though his score wasn’t needed as Bennett Rogers shot a 79 to support the efforts of Zhang and McCormick.
The contrast of the two rounds and how he handled them led to a lot of growth for McCoy, who has grown immensely in confidence and ability.
“I feel like the second day I was trying to do too much and just trying to be perfect,” McCoy said. “I know I’m a good golfer now and I can play with whatever I have.”
In support, Regis Jesuit had a number of veterans and newcomers battling through its always grueling tryout process in hopes of filling out the rest of the varsity lineup. Seniors Justin Markel and Harry Woodward were outstanding in tryouts, while junior Drew Anderson and others put themselves in a position to play in the varsity lineup during the season.
Markel fired a 68 in a practice round at Deer Creek G.C. the day after tryouts and he feels like he is playing his best golf, while Woodward also feel his full potential is ready to come out.
Eaglecrest junior Davis Bryant seems poised for a big season given what he’s done since he tied for 12th at state a year ago.
Bryant’s 2015 campaign included rounds of 69 and 68 in consecutive Centennial League tournaments and he went on to win the individual league title with 60.61 points, the most earned by a player in 13 years.
Over the summer, Bryant helped Colorado’s Junior America’s Cup team to a seventh-place finish in play at Guadalajara Country Club in Mexico, then tied for second in the Bass Pro Shops/Payne Stewart Junior Championship at Buffalo Ridge Springs Golf Course in Hollister, Mo. Bryant shot 2-under-par over three days.
Scalia has become a state tournament regular and is coming off a season in which he tied for 49th overall. He has finished in the top eight of the Centennial League standings in each of the past two seasons and he is the clear leader on coach Troy Flores’ team, which is looking to fill a major void with the graduation of stalwart Ji Jang.
Juniors Jack Stephenson and Chase Street and promising freshman Beam Boonta played well in tryouts and could give the Cougars a competitive lineup.
Grandview’s Danny Taggart — who also stars for the Cherry Creek co-op ice hockey and plays baseball as well — aims to return to the state tournament after finally breaking through last season and finishing in a tie for 66th overall. He came in 14th in the final Centennial League standings and aims to improve on that this season, while hoping to earn himself a chance to play in college.
Taggart and senior Brandon Armitage give Wolves coach Randy Smith a strong, experienced presence at the top of the lineup.
Smoky Hill finished sixth in the Centennial League standings a year ago and hope to move up at least one spot despite the graduation of four-time state qualifier Paul Cleveland.
Seniors Kyle Colen and Cole Johnson plus sophomore Christopher Kennedy give coach Jim Riesenman a strong lead group that will have to be supplemented by some younger players.
Kennedy made it into last season’s 5A state tournament in perhaps the most dramatic way, as he was part of a surprise four-man playoff after officials at the 5A Southern Regional tournament didn’t follow protocol for a playoff to determine first and second alternates. He shot a season-best 75 to make his first state tournament.
Colen — a 2013 5A state qualifier — and Johnson, who skipped summer baseball to concentrate on golf, give the Buffs some good top end depth.
Mason Moore, Quinn Hiatt, Jackson Smith and Justin Weiman all return for coach Casey Coy in his second season at Overland.
The EMAC gets a new member this season in Vista PEAK, which eagerly moves over after a successful finish in the Colorado 7 and seeks to test itself against 5A competition.
Coach Michael Dougherty’s Bison join the EMAC’s South Division, which includes the other Aurora Public Schools teams in Aurora Central, Gateway, Hinkley and Rangeview.
Vista PEAK graduated a four-year varsity player in Trey Severin, but returns the program’s first 4A state tournament qualifier in sophomore Sha Jefferson. Jefferson finished 84th in last season’s 4A field and could lead the way, while senior Luke Meier adds experience.
Rangeview topped APS teams in EMAC play last season with a third-place finish after the league’s two major tournaments, but needs to replace both of its all-league performers in Raymond Simajuntak (who was part of the four-man state playoff) and Jonathan Kim.
Senior Jared Clanton should fill the stop spot in the lineup for coach Merlin Johnson, but he’ll miss at least the first two tournaments of the season as he recovers from a broken wrist. Junior Levi Robinson should fill the top spot in his stead, while newcomer Derrick Watson has potential despite being relatively inexperienced in the game.
Gateway graduated two longtime members of its lineup in Luke Hemphill and Joseph Miller, but returns junior Saben Brooks for a third season. Coach Brian Dossey also adds a pair of strong golfers in brothers Michael and Garrett Milton, formerly of Eaglecrest.
Michael Milton played with the Raptors last season, but Dossey said a homeschool program dropped by the Cherry Creek School District prompted Milton and his brother to play for the school nearest to them, Gateway.
Senior R’Ron Fisher enters his fourth varsity season with Aurora Central looking to get even better after he chopped 30-40 strokes off his average in the last three years. The multi-sport athlete — who also plays basketball and runs track — leads the way for coach Larry Taylor’s Trojans.
Key dates and information about the 2016 boys golf season, here.
Notes: As usual, the final league standings determine which 5A regional tournaments teams will play in. The regional tournaments are predetermined in 4A and Vista PEAK will be in the Region 3 tournament scheduled for Boomerang Golf Links.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]ntinel.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2016 AURORA BOYS GOLFERS TO WATCH
Drew Anderson, Regis Jesuit, jr.; Brandon Armitage, Grandview, sr.; Beam Boonta, Cherokee Trail, fr.; Saben Brooks, Gateway, jr.; Davis Bryant, Eaglecrest, jr.*; Jared Clanton, Rangeview, sr.; Kyle Colen, Smoky Hill, sr.; R’Ron Fisher, Aurora Central, sr.; Sha Jefferson, Vista PEAK, soph.*; Cole Johnson, Smoky Hill, sr.; Christopher Kennedy, Smoky Hill, soph.*; Justin Markel, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Cal McCoy, Regis Jesuit, jr.*; Luke Meier, Vista PEAK, sr.; Michael Milton, Gateway, sr.; Levi Robinson, Rangeview, jr.; Bradley Scalia, Cherokee Trail, sr.*; Jack Stephenson, Cherokee Trail, jr.; Danny Taggart, Grandview, sr.*; Harry Woodward, Regis Jesuit, sr.; Tyler Zhang, Regis Jesuit, sr.*
* — Returning Class 5A/4A state qualifier