John F. Russell: More than expected

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When the members of the Steamboat Springs golf team teed off for this year's regional golf tournament, nobody was expecting much.

That is, nobody except the four players on the course and the coaches who have watched the team continue to get stronger with each tournament this season.

Led by the seemingly unflappable Paul Berry, who makes shooting in the low 70s look easy, the Sailors claimed the school's third straight regional title Wednesday at Craig's Yampa Valley Golf Course.

It was unexpected because, other than Berry, the team's varsity playing experience at the start of the season couldn't fill the back seat of a sports car.

Last year, Berry was the only underclassmen on the team who competed at the state golf tournament at the Country Club of Colorado -- the team's other three players were seniors.

This year, he led the team by example. He has been in contention to win almost every tournament this season, and he is ranked among the top 10 golfers in the state. He had the lowest stroke average of any player on the Western Slope this season and had earned an invitation to the state tournament before the Sailors took the course Wednesday.

But what wasn't expected was the showing from the other Steamboat golfers. Tucker Campbell and Michael Weston turned in solid rounds. And although freshman Cody Fritz didn't have the type of showing he would have liked, he displayed the potential that have coaches excited about his future.

Despite their relative inexperience, the younger players came through when the Sailors needed it.

Campbell fired his best round of the season, and it proved to be key to Steamboat winning the title. Weston's round of 80 was just enough to help Steamboat edge Basalt for the regional title.

Berry, the only Steamboat golfer who really had to live up to expectations, didn't disappoint.

Berry and Aspen golfer Ted Karlinski made solid bids in the first 18 holes, finishing at 70. In the playoff, Berry topped Karlinski to win his first individual regional title.

Because of his ranking in the state, Berry already knew he would return to the state tournament. But because of the team's unexpected showing at the regional, he will be joined by Campbell, Weston and Fritz on the lush fairways and greens of the Wellshire Golf Club in October.

The state tournament appearance will carry on a tradition Steamboat started building three years ago. It will be a chance for the Steamboat players to gain top tournament experience and should fuel the team's desire to return again in 2006.

Chances are that nobody will be expecting Steamboat to win this year's state title. Nobody that is, except the four golfers who will be wearing Sailors uniforms.

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