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Rebels’ Tait leads group headed to 5A state meet

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Regional team champs Dakota Ridge advances three to Grand Junction

By Michael Hicks

It was in the back of Jaylee Tait’s mind just how poorly she played at the 5A regional girls golf tournament in 2012. It was her worst round of the year. But she had to get over that because this year’s tournament was at that same Raccoon Creek Golf Course.
Initially, though, it didn’t appear that the Columbine junior had let go of the past, because she bogeyed the first three holes May 6 before she found a groove.
“I slowed my swing down and focused more on the fundamentals instead of trying to hit the perfect shot,” Tait said.
It worked like a charm. Tait bogeyed four holes in all before coming back with birdies on No. 15 and 17 to finish with a 2-over-par 74 and a regional championship. She beat out Dakota Ridge freshman Sydney Merchant by three strokes. Dakota Ridge’s Gillian Vance carded an eight-over 80.
This will be Tait’s third year at state. Last season, she finished 13th.
While Merchant and Vance just missed out on individual honors, Dakota Ridge did well as a team as the Lady Eagles scored a 266 total — the top three scores counted — to capture the school’s first regional team title. They beat out second-place Standley Lake by 12 shots. Columbine was third with a 279 total.
“It had been a team goal of ours and an expectation from when we started the season that we would come out and win a league championship and a regional championship,” Dakota Ridge head coach Levi Barthlomew said. Besides Merchant and Vance, Kristen Weigard, with a 109, also qualified for state. “The girls worked hard to get to that. Anything less, and they would’ve been disappointed with it.”
The only disappointment for Dakota Ridge is that Maddie Caron, who shot a 122, won’t be joining her teammates at state because her score came in more than 10 strokes back of the final individual qualifier.
While Merchant is making her first trip to state, this will be Vance’s second. She expects this year to be different.
“I will go in with more confidence in the first round. I was really nervous last time,” Vance said.
Columbine qualified two other players as Corine Wilson shot a 102 and Erin Lemberger carded a 103. Chatfield has a pair of first-time state qualifiers in Nichole Hagen and Lauren Pearson. For Hagen, a senior who shot a 100 at regionals, qualifying this year is extra sweet.
“It feels great finally in my last year of high school, my last year of golf, that I get to qualify for the state tournament. It feels really good,” Hagen said.
Pearson, a junior, probably has a similar feeling. After all, she was the first alternate last year, but because nobody dropped out, she didn’t get to play. When she carded a 101 at regionals, she wasn’t even sure she had made the cut this year.
“I really didn’t think I had qualified because I had been playing pretty bad the whole round. But when I came in and I saw the other scores posted, I started to realize that I might have a chance,” Pearson said.
She not only has a shot, but this year she’s riding out to state in Grand Junction and she’s playing.
The 5A state girls golf tournament is May 20-21 at the Tiara Rado Golf Course.

Contact Michael Hicks at sports@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.