TUMWATER — The opening rounds of the 1B/2B boys and girls state golf tournaments were played under a big blue sky with the kind of big white clouds that make those with idle time see visions in the sky. But those perks of the day were mostly reserved for the fleet of onlookers that followed the state’s top small school golfers, Tuesday, at Tumwater Valley Golf Course. The competitors were too busy trying to find the bottom of the cup to properly enjoy the cumulous procession.
When the final putt was sunk Wahkiakum’s Avrey Wiltse-Hiatt had played herself up toward the top of the leaderboard in the girls tournament, sitting on 88 and in a tie for fourth place with 18 holes still ahead of her on Tuesday.
After all of that walking with their head down, Wahkiakum coach Andrew Weiler came away pleased with what he saw.
“The course is good. It’s well maintained, that’s for sure,” Weiler said “The greens are manageable for the kids. It’s a challenging course, but not too challenging.”
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Makenna Kelpman of Sound Christian was setting the pace in the girl tournament with an opening round of 77 that left her two shots ahead of Chase Caruso of Pomeroy.
Wiltse-Hiatt was coming off of a District championship and played in the second group on the first day. She was one of four Wahkiakum golfers playing in the tournaments, and but a small part of the Mules’ bandwagon on site.
“We’ve got a squad,” Weiler noted.
That squad included Brie Cothren and Jessie LeFever on the girls side, along with Sebastian Britt on the boys side. And with so many golfers in action at once, and just one official coach, the Mules had to get creative in order to keep their players well caddied. Helping to pick up the slack were Wahkiakum athletic director Rob Garrett and senior Brodie Avalon, who qualified for the tournament as an alternate but did not get the chance to compete himself.
Avalon hung tight with Wiltse-Hiatt on Day 1 and did his best to provide insight as the day moved along and helped the Mules’ top golfer remain in the hunt for a championship.
Meanwhile, Garrett stalked Cothren around the course as she shot a 99 on the day. That round was good enough for a tie at 13th place and advanced Cothren to the second day of the tournament.
Meanwhile, Weiler stayed in the pocket of Jessie LeFever, an underclassmen playing in her first state tournament. LeFever played steady golf throughout the day, especially on the front nine, and wound up on 121 for the day. That mark left her in 28th position, which would have been good enough to advance on the boys’ side but left her on the wrong side of the cut in the girls’ tournament.
Weiler noted that his team played a helpful practice round on the course in the days leading up to the tournament. Still, he admitted that after a regular season of nine-hole matches the adjustment to 18-hold golf over the final two weeks of the season can be a big adjustment, especially for young golfers.
“They had a little bit of experience before Districts but they managed,” Weiler said. “I honestly just worry; Do they have snacks? Do they have water?… Because they are fully capable of playing well otherwise.”
To be sure, the day can be a slog for the uninitiated. With caravans of carts winding around the paths and a commitment to proper protocol on the course the actual pace of play can drag at times. And when a few shots compound on top of one another mid round the rest of the day can begin to look like a long walk home. Dealing with that mental aspect is one of the most important aspects of game and its one that Wahkiakum’s veteran golfers excel at.
“Sebastian Britt and Avrey Hiatt, they’ve got experience,” Weiler said. “They’ve got the stamina and they know what it takes to get through the round and take care of themselves and do a lot of course management… realizing there’s a lot of golf left when they feel like they’re not playing well. That’s something that the younger kids are learning.”
Ilwaco’s Zoey Zuern was also on hand for the tournament and she managed to make the cut with a round of 100 that placed her in 16th position. Only the top 20 golfers advanced to Day 2 in the girls’ tournament.
While everyone of course strives to make it to the second day of competition, Weiler advises his players to focus on something that’s more controllable.
“An even smaller accomplishment is just being No. 1 in your group, because nobody knows what the cut is going to be when we’re out here,” Weiler explained. “So it’s just about having a competition with the other girls in your group. Focus on the moment. Don’t think about tomorrow. Tomorrow will come and you’ll hopefully be there.”
The early tee times on the first day were reserved for the boys side where Dan Harrington of Northwest Christian (Colbert) set the pace with a round of 74.
Kalama’s Cooper Hahn fought some struggles in the short game down the stretch but played his driver and irons well throughout the day. Playing in a pair of pants a white as the burning sands, With three birdies and a 40 on the front, Hahn wound up in a tie for 19th place with Adna’s Braeden Salme after firing of an 85 on Day 1. That score was good enough to make the cut, with the top 30 spots set to advance.
“He played well. He just had a couple of hiccups,” Kalama coach Jerry Sager said. “His chip shots checked up short, didn’t roll out which left him with 18-footers for par. He could have shot 81. He hit the ball really well.”
Wahkiakum’s Sebastian Britt wasn’t so lucky after finishing on 98 and missing the cut in his senior season. Ilwaco’s Westin Billeci was similarly unlucky, shooting a 100 in his final round of the season.
Trophy day of the 1B/2B boys and girls state tournaments began Wednesday morning at Tumwater Valley Golf Course.
The final countdown
Dan Harrington of Northwest Christian (Colbert) wound up winning the boys tournament with a round of 79 on Wednesday. That score gave him a two day tally of 153, which was four strokes better than the next closest competition.
Kalama’s Cooper Hahn was the highest placer from the area in the boys tournament, finishing 24th with a total score of 176.
The girls tournament was won by Makenna Kelpman of Sound Christian, who notched a round of 75 on Wednesday for a two day tally of 152. That score put Kelpman six strokes ahead of her nearest challenger.
Avrey Wiltse-Hiatt was the top placer from the area, finishing fifth in the girls tournament. Wiltse-HIatt shot a 91 on Wednesday, bringing her tournament tally to 179.
Zoey Zuern of Ilawco finished in 15th with score of 202, while Brie Cothren of Wahkiakum placed 17th with a two day score of 206.
For additional coverage from the 1B/2B state golf tournaments look online at TDN.com, and in Friday’s print edition of The Daily News.