Aspen girls golf ties for second at 3A championship led by Persson, O’Sullivan

'They are celebrities amongst this whole golf community'

Aspen High School's Audrey Woodrow, center, holds the trophy along with Brooke O'Sullivan, right, while Lenna Persson celebrates at back after the Skiers tied for second at the Class 3A girls golf state championship on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, at Aspen Golf Club.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Playing in the final group of the Class 3A girls golf state championship on Wednesday, Lenna Persson finally discovered the nerves that had been absent two days earlier in her practice round at Aspen Golf Club.

When her final putt found the bottom of the cup on the 18th green — which was surrounded by people watching the finish — the Aspen High School sophomore felt the intensity of the day wash over her.

“I was shaking on the last green. I was just trying to focus on breathing. That’s why I kind of broke down at the end because it was just so much adrenaline,” she said. “It was terrifying, to be honest. Not playing with those girls — I’ve played with those girls my whole life, and they are both super sweet. So that wasn’t stressful. It was just so stressful realizing one putt could cause us second place, cause us the state title or something, and that was just so nerve-racking.”

Despite those nerves, she and her teammates weathered the storm that is the state championship and ended the day tied with Peak to Peak as the 3A runner-up — by far the best team finish in program history for AHS girls golf.

The Skiers entered the second and final round tied atop the leaderboard with powerhouse St. Mary’s Academy, but the Wildcats and their junior superstar Maddy Bante played near to perfection over the final 18 holes and cruised to the state title. It is the third straight championship for St. Mary’s, while Bante rolled to her second straight individual crown.

“Sometimes you can’t see what is possible without literally seeing it. She experienced it, and she hung in,” AHS coach Shannon Day said of Persson playing alongside someone like Bante. “I want to see Brooke and Lenna moving around that course like she does. And they can. And they will.”

Bante shot 2-under-par 69 on Wednesday — the only player either day to shoot under par — and 143 for the 36 holes to beat runner-up Noelle Thompson of Peak to Peak by 11 strokes. Salida’s Kyndra Johnson was third with 163, and Persson finished fourth with 164 — a full 21 strokes behind Bante. Prospect Ridge’s Hope Torres was fifth with 168, and AHS junior Brooke O’Sullivan came in sixth with 169.

O’Sullivan shot 84-85 over the two days, while Persson had rounds of 79 and 85 on their home course. AHS sophomore Audrey Woodrow was the team’s third scorer, shooting 199 (100-99) to tie for 30th, and sophomore Madison Nelson shot 227 (110-117) to tie for 57th place.

The Aspen High School girls golf team and coaches pose with the trophy after tying for second place at the Class 3A girls golf state championship on Wednesday at Aspen Golf Club.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“There are a lot of added pressures with having it at home and higher expectations with yourself because you know you can shoot just over par on this course and any other day of the week,” O’Sullivan said. “When you don’t do that, it’s definitely frustrating. But being in an atmosphere of this level is definitely good for us.”

Fact is, these Aspen golfers are young. Three of the four state players were sophomores, and then there is O’Sullivan, the junior. Day said she was happy the Skiers got to experience state at home this season as opposed to maybe next season, as it’s easier to focus on golf when playing on the road.

But the experience the Skiers gained this spring could be invaluable going forward.

“They did their job, and they really persevered, and that’s all you can do. It’s all about the next shot in golf. It’s all about recovery, and I saw so many amazing recovery shots,” Day said. “They had all this support, and they know how much people love them, and they know how much people want them to do well, and then they get another year. That’s fun.”

Aspen and Peak to Peak both shot a collective 532 for the two days to finish in the second-place tie. St. Mary’s Academy finished at 521, beating Aspen by 11 strokes in the second round to pull away for another state championship. Prospect Ridge finished fourth with 543.

“I was kind of hoping to play a little bit better,” O’Sullivan said. “But Lenna brings up a great point: Even if we did shoot our best scores, we are not at the level of under-par players, and that’s OK. But I think it was a successful journey the past three days. Although all of us might not have played to the level we could have, we took a lot of lessons from it.”

Simply hosting the state championship was a big deal for the Aspen program. Day said the Colorado High School Activities Association reached out to teams prior to the season about hosting state, and the Skiers, led by Athletic Director John Castrese and Day, decided to jump on the opportunity.

Coming away from the tournament with a big trophy wasn’t unfathomable for the Aspen golfers, but it was something the program had never done before. Day said she did talk to the players prior to saying yes to hosting state, as she knew there would be this added pressure of being the home team.

“You go through it in your mind over and over, ‘What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen?’ I’m overwhelmed. It’s certainly something I 100% knew we were capable of,” she said. “I don’t think they are just celebrities amongst young people; they are celebrities amongst this whole golf community, which is a big community. It’s really special.”

One reason Day wanted to host state was to shine a spotlight on girls golf in the Roaring Fork Valley, which suddenly has a very bright future. Persson and O’Sullivan, especially, wanted to thank a long list of people for making the event possible, from local pro Dede Cusimano, who runs her own academy through Aspen Golf Club, to parents, coaches, and the teachers.

And like Day, Persson hopes their success can not only be a springboard for the program, but also a launching pad to get more girls involved in the sport for the long haul.

“I’m so grateful for everyone who supports us. It’s so exciting to have this here because Brooke and I grew up through junior golf, and there are not that many girls who continue on to play high school golf,” Persson said. “I feel like us doing this well might be an alleyway for more female golfers in this valley, which is a really exciting thing to think we could make an impact on that.”