TWIN FALLS — Looming over the field with a 20-stroke lead, two of the top five 4A golfers and a home-course advantage, it’d be easy to concede another 4A girls team golf title to the Twin Falls Bruins.
But as far as Sandpoint girls golf team is concerned, all of these things can be thrown out the window.
Fresh off of their first district title since 2016, the Bulldogs haven’t been content to rest on their laurels. The young team of mostly sophomores and juniors took the first day of the 4A State Golf Tournament by storm Monday, finishing in second with 357 strokes and two golfers in the top 10.
“They’re all of a sudden gaining confidence from looking up at the scoreboard and realizing as a group that they’re good,” Sandpoint head coach Michael Deprez said. “[Realizing] this has been a gradual process all season.”
Like they have all year long, Sandpoint sophomores Hattie Larson and CeCe Deprez led the way on day one. Larson’s 83 was good for sixth place, but only one stroke away from a three-way tie for third. CeCe Deprez is in a four-way tie for ninth with an 86. The two have traded No. 1 duties not only throughout this season, but also before high school golf: Deprez and Larson grew up playing in the Idaho Junior Golf circuit together and have, according to their coach, enjoyed pushing each other.
Michael Deprez, however, focuses on the team-wide goal at hand, which isn’t playing conservatively by merely trying to hold off the field. Instead, he wants his team to chase Twin Falls for the 4A team title.
“I think we’ve got a chance tomorrow,” Deprez said. “Quite honestly, it’s a tall order to try to beat the girls that are in the lead right now [because] it’s their home golf course and they have a 20-stroke lead. But it’s more about the girls realizing that they’re not just average or okay — they’re worthy of the podium and they can definitely do this.”
Yet in order to challenge Twin Falls tomorrow, Sandpoint will need not only their top two, but also the rest of the team playing their sharpest golf of the year. Luckily for the Bulldogs, this year’s team is a well-rounded, experienced group of young golfers whom have either been significant contributors to prior teams (Camille Neuder, Annaby Kanning), or have transferred in with prior experience in the Idaho Junior Golf circuit (Aly Lish). Although only the top four golfers are factored into the final score, Neuder, Kanning and Lish turned in performances yesterday that could’ve been second or third-best on most teams.
“From day one, the emphasis for me has been looking at everything from a team aspect of the game,” Deprez said. “To get to where we are, we need to have five good players. And that’s what we have at this time. Sometimes it’s difficult for some of these programs to have all five players who can play golf.”
Both Kanning and Neuder turned in high-school best performances (or something close to it) yesterday. Neuder in particular ended the front nine with a 49 then stormed back with a 44 on the back nine, including a birdie on the eleventh hole, scoring a high school career-low 93.
“They’ve all had their tastes of success in one way or another. Camille pushed Hattie and CeCe for a bit, then Hattie and CeCe push each other, they’ve all jockeyed back and forth out there.”
From Deprez’s perspective, performances like Neuder’s should come easier tomorrow after playing the course once through. Ironically, Sandpoint — the very Bulldogs that battle harsher conditions in shortened seasons compared to their southern counterparts — could have the advantage. Unlike most of the southern schools, which have probably played at Twin Falls Golf Club before state, the Bulldogs will likely have more room to improve after playing the course for merely the second time tomorrow. In other words, Sandpoint has a different learning curve.
“For golf and spring sports, Sandpoint is always going to face a greater challenge than anyone south of us,” Deprez said. “It’s even more impressive to see our scores progress faster at this time of year because we haven’t had the time to get outside and play as early as some of the other teams. We’re really excited and happy at the opportunity now to really show our stuff.”
Lest the Bulldogs be mistaken for a group that’s merely happy to be at the state tournament, the learning hasn’t stopped for the young team. During their warm-up round, Sandpoint assistant coach and former University of Portland golfer Sarah Walter walked the team through a collegiate-style approach with every hole. All five of the players had to take notes about the holes, their strategies and which clubs they were going to use in any situation. After the first day of state, the Bulldogs wrote up notes of how their game-plans fared with how they performed on each hole.
“We want to make sure that every time they walk up to the tee, they know what they want to do,” Deprez said. “They may not do it, but at least they have great clarity in their mind of exactly what they want to do. And they can adjust as they go forward.”
Naturally, Deprez, Walter and the Bulldogs hope the team can make the adjustments tomorrow. Given that Sandpoint has youth and room to grow on its side — not to mention players whom are willing to play golf year-round despite juggling other sports — this state experience could be only the beginning.
“Hopefully they play free and loose tomorrow,” Deprez said. “We’ve got ourselves in a good position and everything we’ve hoped for has been achieved this year. So we’ll just roll the dice.”
Day two of the 4A State Golf Tournament starts tomorrow at 8 a.m.
4A Girls Golf Team Scores
Twin Falls Golf Club
TEAM SCORES: 1, Twin Falls, 337. 2, Sandpoint, 357. 3, Middleton, 366. 4, Ridgevue, 372. 5, Pocatello, 377. 6, Skyline, 387. 7, Century, 409. 8, Kuna, 410. 9, Shelley, 420.
TWIN FALLS (337) — Brinlee Stotts 76, Kaylee Jones 82, Brooke Fuchs 88, Dominique Gaspar 91, Allison Smith 101.
SANDPOINT (357) — Hattie Larson 83, CeCe Deprez 86, Camille Neuder 93, Annaby Kanning 95, Aly Lish 108.
MIDDLETON (366) — Davis Wagoner 87, Emalie Wood 89, Elizabeth Cole 94, Marin Short 96, Jessica Charters 111.
RIDGEVUE (372) — Emily Elliot 86, Maya Elliot 91, Courtney Kearsley 96, Kelsey Elliot 99.
POCATELLO (377) — Natalie Beck 84, Abi Pearson 90, Hall Wray 99, Sophia Wray 104, Jess Orr 116.
SKYLINE (387) — Shelby Lee 93, Taryn Chapman 96, Zoe Davis 98, Drew Chapman 100, Elizabeth Romo 107.
CENTURY (409) — Sophia Lippiello 88, Arianna Long 104, Ciarra Carter 108, Caitlin Millward 109, Isabell Jensen 114.
KUNA (410) — Stacey Warr 95, Meah Sessions 98, Mikayla Macluso 105, Jill Donerkiel 112, McKenna Culley 112.
SHELLEY (420) — Nicole Nelson 85, Daniela Quintero 99, Tenlee Williams 117, Kyla Shaw 119, Breanna Foster 131.