Girls golf: Hilltoppers knock off Sundevils to grab district crown

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By Mike Cote

TAOS — It was an appropriate finish to the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls golf team on many different levels.

Los Alamos, as expected, topped Española Valley at the District 2AAAA championship tournament Thursday. Española Valley was the only other school in the district that fielded a team.

The Hilltoppers won convincingly on a relatively challenging course despite a pretty stiff breeze that didn’t really start up until just about tee time.

Perhaps, most fitting as an end to the 2008-09 season, the Hilltoppers would’ve just missed out on a state qualification leg with their final score of 397. Had they been playing for a leg, they would’ve missed it by one team stroke.

Nevertheless, the Hilltoppers, with their win at the district tournament, earned their invitation to the Class AAAA championship meet which starts Tuesday and continues through Wednesday at New Mexico Tech in Socorro.

Española Valley’s Sundevils, despite a solid effort by No. 1 player Beverly Williams, could only manage a 441 team score.

“We had to confirm we were the district champion,” Hilltopper head coach John McBride said after the victory. “But that was about the worst score we could’ve shot (Thursday).”

Despite winning by 44 shots, Los Alamos was hoping for a more decisive victory. But two days earlier, it sounded like the tournament might not happen at all.

The New Mexico Activities Association announced Monday that it was placing a moratorium on all sports in the state. In that announcement, it recommended that districts around the state forgo having a district tournament and just declare a winner.

“At the beginning of the week, we were ready,” Hilltopper Miranda Olinger said. “We needed it for state, but when we heard we couldn’t do it, our morale went way down. (Thursday), we wanted to have this practice to get ready for state. We did what we could do.”

Olinger, Los Alamos’ No. 1 player, made a push for the district individual championship, but the individual title was picked up by Taos’ Carlie Malone, the only player in the field from the host team.

Malone shot an 89 Thursday, topping Olinger, the district runner-up by three shots. Right behind Olinger were teammates Alicia Herrera and Julie Chung, both of whom finished with a 97.

Due to the stoppage of sports competition, the tournament was delayed from Monday to Thursday. Because of the rescheduling, tee-off for Thursday’s play was pushed back to 1:30 p.m. and the girls groups had to wait until the final boys group teed off, which was well after 2 p.m.

That sitting around, McBride said, had an impact on his team, which was hitting at the driving range before the tee-off then had to sit around for over an hour to get its rounds started.

But Los Alamos was still able to put together some big shots Thursday. On the eighth green, Olinger — trying to keep pace with Malone after getting into some trouble on holes four and five — knocked in a 35-foot downhill putt to salvage the hole.

Prior to her putt, Olinger got into some heavy sagebrush on the left side of the fairway, but made up for it with a pair of clutch short shots.

She also made a tricky uphill putt to save bogey on the ninth, finishing the front with a 46.

Despite some good pick-ups, Olinger felt so-so about her performance.

“It was definitely not my best round,” she said. “I was mis-hitting a lot…my swing wasn’t coming to me (Thursday).”

Shelby Fellows, Los Alamos’ No. 5 that McBride said has made significant strides throughout the season, finished with a 110, one shot ahead of Morgan Vaughn at No. 4.

During the regular season, Los Alamos earned two team qualification legs, one shy of what it needed to grab an automatic bid to state. It missed out on its third leg in four tournaments this season by two shots or less.

Individually, Olinger qualified to state during the season and would’ve gone regardless of Thursday’s outcome.

Team scores

1. Los Alamos, 397; 2. Española Valley, 441.

Individual results

1. Carlie Malone, Taos, 89; 2. Miranda Olinger, 93; 3. Alicia Herrera, 97; (tie) Julie Chung, 97; 5. Beverly Williams, Española Valley, 99; Shelby Fellows, 110; Morgan Vaughn, 111.