PARKER | Sophia Stiwich and Brenna Higgins were neck-and-neck for 36 holes over two days at the Class 5A girls state golf tournament and needed an extra one to decide the championship Wednesday at Black Bear Golf Club.

It was decided in a way that nobody expected, as two tee shots that landed out of bounds put Stiwich at such a disadvantage that the Smoky Hill freshman made the difficult decision to concede to Higgins, a Valor Christian sophomore, who had put a conservative shot into the middle of the fairway.

For a tournament that looked like it would be decided on a big putt that would fall for one of the two — it almost came from Stiwich, who came up inches shy on a putt that likely would have won it on the final hole of regulation — it ended up being decided without either player actually getting onto the green.

Despite the result, Stiwich — who moved to Colorado midway through the school year — ended up as the highest finisher for a Smoky Hill girls golfer at state in the 24 years that Laurie Steenrod has coached Smoky Hill and possibly ever.

Smoky Hill freshman Sophia Stiwich watches her putt go just wide on Hole No. 17 in the second round of the Class 5A girls state golf tournament on May 31, 2023, at Black Bear Golf Club. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

“She’s clearly the best player the Smoky Hill women’s program has had, at least in my time,” said Steenrod, whose previous highest finisher was Amisha Singh, who placed 14th in 2017. “I’m proud of her and happy for her.”

Stiwich and Higgins both finished with two-day totals of 143 (Stiwich shot 67 in the opening round and 76 in the second round, while Higgins went 66-77), but they got their in different ways.

Playing together for the final round — along with Cherry Creek’s Caitlyn Chin, the only other player to shoot under par in the opening round — the styles of Stiwich and Higgins were in stark contrast.

While Higgins mostly played conservatively, Stiwich took a bit more risky approach on several holes.

Both approaches were effective at times, as the lead swung back and forth on multiple occasions, while both had putts that lipped out or passed the cup by an inch or two, including a putt by Stiwich on 17 that just missed and forced her into a bogey that tied it going into the final hole.

Stiwich outdrove Higgins and Chin by a large distance off the tee on No. 18, but ended up in a bunker that required her to chip out blind. She did so and put her first putt for birdie past the hole. A putt from the fringe with Higgins stuck on a hill above the green could have won it, but stopped just short. Both players ended up with bogeys.

“It could have gone either way for both us, for sure,” Higgins said afterwards.

They took a brief break and headed back to 18th, where Stiwich again went for a big tee shot, but it ended up on the practice putting green in the out of bounds area to the left of the fairway. After Higgins played her tee shot into the middle of the fairway, Stiwich went back to the tee and her second drive went out the other direction.

Stiwitch then went over and offered her congratulations to Higgins before she could line up her second shot.

“She has an aggressive game, which serves her well, but occasionally hurts her,” Steenrod said.

Valor Christian coach Justen Byler — who got a cherry on top of the 5A team championship with Higgins’ individual win — commended Stiwich for the way she handled things at the end.

“I have a huge amount of respect for her (Stiwich), lot of humility, tough decision for a young lady because she played so well for two days,” Byler said. “We’d all like to see it finish on the green, not just for Brenna’s sake, but for Sophia’s because she deserved that, but you see a lot of things in this sport and that’s the first time I’ve seen that one.”

It is likely not the last time the two will be in the thick of a title chase given they have multiple seasons left in high school.

In fact, eight of the top 10 placers were sophomore or freshmen, so the future looks bright.

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports

Courtney Oakes is sports Editor and photographer with Sentinel Colorado. A Denver East High School alum. He came to the Sentinel in 2001 and since then has received a number of professional awards from...

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