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LAS CRUCES — There was little pressure on the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls golf team heading into this week’s Class AAAA championship tournament.
Although the Hilltoppers were among the lowest-ranked teams in AAAA this season, they put together a solid opening round Monday. The Hilltoppers’ opening round score was good enough for seventh place and kept them in the running for a top-three finish this season.
Los Alamos, paced once again by senior Alicia Herrera, posted a total of 399 strokes at the New Mexico State University Golf Course. Los Alamos sits just five strokes back of Piedra Vista and Belen, which finished the opening round tied for fifth and just seven shots behind third-place Farmington.
Deming, the defending Class AAAA champion, took a big step toward a repeat Monday, grabbing a 24-shot lead over its next-closest competitor, Kirtland Central. Deming’s Wildcats had four players finish in the top nine individually, including Cheyenne Molina, who was just one stroke off the lead and Bianca Dominguez, who was just one stroke behind Molina.
While the Wildcats seem primed for a repeat, one person who could potentially stand in their way might be Mother Nature. Forecasts for today’s round — results were unavailable at press time — called for wind gusts of up to 60 mph in southern New Mexico.
Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers, who with just one senior on the squad are among the youngest teams in the tournament, got some big showings out of its bottom golfers.
The team’s No. 4 and No. 5 players, Taylor Engleman and Aislinn McDonald, both had career-best performances on the opening day of play. McDonald finished with a 103 on the day and Engleman was just one shot behind her.
“It was beautiful,” McDonald said after totaling up her score Monday. “I loved it. It was my best round ever. Putting was marvelous for me. I did really well with it.”
The greens were fast Monday but Los Alamos, after playing a 9-hole practice round Sunday afternoon, was ready for it.
Los Alamos played the back nine of the 5,493-yard, par-74 NMSU course for its practice round and its back-nine scores Monday were, for all but one player, better than the front nine scores.
Herrera, the lone remaining Hilltopper from the team that won the AAAA state title in 2006, shot a 92 Monday, placing her 12th individually, came back from a slow start by parring three holes on the back nine, finishing two shots better than her performance on the front.
Like a high percentage of golfers Monday, Herrera found the deep rough off the tee on the first hole. Hole No. 1 at NMSU features a tight fairway and arroyos on either side. At one stretch, six straight groups had at least one player have to take a drop or re-tee on the first hole.
But Herrera played even par on the short holes and generally was able to avoid big numbers for most of the day.
Engleman, meanwhile, shaved 10 strokes off on her back nine to finish with a 47 coming into the clubhouse.
The NMSU course, which features some crater-like bunkers, especially right around many of its greens, gobbled up more than a few balls throughout the day. And although Engleman was not immune to getting into the sand, she said that was when she was at her best.
“Coming out of the sand I did really good,” she said. “I got in a bunch of bunkers, but I got out of them easily.”
Los Alamos entered the tournament as a district qualifier, winning last month’s 2AAAA tournament by default – it was the only district school with a full team contingent.
While the team didn’t have the best regular season, many on the team were pleased with Monday’s first round outcome.
While the first round was blustery throughout, the windy forecast prompted tournament officials to change today’s starting format from all tee-times to a shotgun start in an effort to beat the stiffest of the breezes.
For McDonald, a freshman, she said she’s having a great time at state and isn’t going to worry about a little spring zephyr.
“It’s a beautiful course,” she said. “I love it. It’s nicely laid out and it’s challenging. It would be boring if it wasn’t.”
1. Deming, 343; 2. Kirtland Central, 367; 3. Farmington, 392; 4. Artesia, 393; 5. Piedra Vsita, 394; (tie) Belen, 394; 7. Los Alamos, 399; 8. St. Pius X, 405; 9. Albuquerque Academy, 407; 10. Goddard, 408.
Taylor Jaramillo, Belen, 82
Kyra Garrison, Piedra Vista, 82
Cheyenne Molina, Deming, 83
Bianca Dominguez, Deming, 84
Marion Lansing, Kirtland Central, 86
Arrianna Estrada, Belen, 87
Lauren Dodson, Deming, 87
Sara Garcia, Goddard, 88
Abby Reecer, Academy, 89
Kayla Molina, Deming, 89
Jonine Kee, Kirtland Central, 91
Alicia Herrera, Los Alamos, 92
Los Alamos results
Alicia Herrera 47-45—92
Shelby Fellows 51-49—100
Aislinn McDonald 51-52—103
Taylor Engleman 57-47—104
Morgan Vaughn 56-51—107