Senior trio key to Aspen golf’s chances at Class 3A state tournament in Gunnison

The three seniors headed to the state tournament for the Aspen High School boys golf team this week have combined for zero starts at that level. This isn’t necessarily something to worry about, according to AHS coach Mary Woulfe, as the trio has at least seen what it takes to win a championship.

“They’ve been watching great Aspen High School teams and getting out of school to come down and watch,” Woulfe said. “So they were a part of our state championship win and I think they saw what it took, they saw the discipline and they all were hungry to want to be in that spot. And I don’t feel like we have anybody that’s not ready for that experience.”

Seniors Jake Doyle, Cole Kennedy and Andrew Vallone will join junior Nic Pevny on Monday and Tuesday for the Class 3A state tournament at Dos Rios Golf Club in Gunnison. Only Pevny has actually played a round at state, finishing tied for fourth as a sophomore last season at Eisenhower Golf Course in Colorado Springs.

The Skiers finished fourth as a team in 2019, a year after winning the 3A state championship. Pevny, then a freshman, did not play that 2018 title year, although his brother, then junior Jack Pevny, was a key piece, finishing fourth as an individual. That state championship is the only team title in AHS golf history; it’s never had an individual state champion.

“We feel good right now,” Kennedy said. “We’ve all had friends or family that’s been in it and we’ve all watched it a bunch of times. Now it’s kind of our turn. We feel confident.”

Dos Rios in Gunnison is a relatively familiar course for Aspen. In fact, current assistant coach Coulter Young was a senior for the Skiers on their state runner-up team in 2011, when Dos Rios also hosted state. The coaches see a lot of similarities between that team, which lost to an elite Kent Denver group, and this 2020 squad.

The course in Gunnison also plays similar to Aspen Golf Club, and the mountain weather could be a big benefit for a Skier team used to troublesome conditions.

“We don’t not play because the weather is bad. I think our guys are hardy that way,” said Woulfe, who was the team’s coach back in 2011 as well. “We are keeping the expectations to just playing it one shot at a time. Can’t control what other people do, and that’s what we learned the year Coulter played.”

Aspen is coming off another regional championship, won Sept. 22 at River Valley Ranch in Carbondale. Nic Pevny was the individual regional champion, leading AHS back to the top after finishing as regional runner-up on its home course in 2019, a loss that ended a 10-year streak at the helm.

Pevny, who hasn’t finished worse than a tie for first after 18 holes in any tournament this season, is on a short list of legitimate state title contenders at Dos Rios.

“It would be cool to get the first one, so I’ll for sure be trying to do that,” he said of becoming the school’s first individual state champion in golf. “We got out and played earlier this week a couple of times and everyone is playing pretty well. So feeling pretty good about it.”

Aspen’s chance at the team title will certainly come down to how well the three seniors can play in their first state tournament, which is a 36-hole affair. Vallone, who has only been on the team two years after moving to Aspen from Houston as a sophomore, was a big surprise at regionals two weeks ago. He was neck-and-neck with Pevny through nine holes before finishing with 82 and tied for 12th.

“I’m just looking at it as another round of golf. Just a course I’m excited to go play,” Vallone said of state. “It’s fun being able to go out with a bang. My last high school tournament and maybe sports competition ever. But we’ll see how it goes and hopefully we end up in a solid spot and come home with a trophy.”

Doyle has consistently been the team’s No. 2 golfer this season behind Pevny. He shot 81 to tie for ninth at regionals, and even won a tournament at Dos Rios last season. He came up just short for a spot on last year’s regional team, but improved enough since that he left little to doubt about his role this fall.

“I’m feeling pretty good — a little nervous already,” Doyle said earlier in the week. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot, but mostly just trying to focus on school and keep my mind off it unless I’m on the course. I’ve been running through the course a little bit in my head, too.”

Lutheran won the 3A championship last season, with Holy Family finishing five shots back in second. In third was Colorado Academy, 12 shots back of Lutheran, while Aspen finished 13 shots back of first. Kent Denver was fifth, another shot back of the Skiers.

Along with Pevny, Kent Denver’s Jeffrey Zhou and Sterling’s Tayleb Schaefer are expected to contend as individuals. That trio finished in a three-way tie for fourth at state last fall, finishing at 8-over-par. Lutheran’s Westin Pals, who was a senior, beat Prospect Ridge’s Walker Franklin in a playoff for the championship in 2019. Both players shot even par through 36 holes. Holy Family’s Jacob Mason finished alone in third last season at 7 over.

“Nic’s got a team with him, which is really good,” Woulfe said. “To feel that is great, to know he’s got guys that have his back. Jake can do it — they are all able to do it.”