Steamboat Springs This year's state high school golf championships will feature the return of a state champion, three of the top four teams from 2005 and four local golfers who should feel right at home.
"We're very excited," Steamboat Springs High School junior Billy Taylor said.
Taylor, who is scheduled to tee off at 10 a.m. Monday, is one of four Steamboat Springs golfers who qualified to play in this year's state tournament, which begins Monday at Haymaker Golf Course.
He will be joined by teammates Michael Weston and Tucker Campbell, who are playing in their second straight high school championships, and Paul Berry, who is making his fourth appearance.
Berry, who shot a 76 in blustery conditions during the regional tournament Sept. 20 in Delta, should be in the race for an individual state title. Last year, Berry was tied with Aspen's Teddy Karlinski and Greeley Central's Nick Umholtz at the end of the second day. But on the first playoff hole, Berry's tee shot sailed out of bounds. Karlinski and Umholtz played five more holes before the Greeley golfer was crowned champion.
"I've tried to put it behind me," Berry said about last year's result. "It's easy to get angry at golf. But I had a couple of good tournaments this summer and a couple of strong showings during the high school season. So we will just have to see what happens."
Umholtz will return as part of a strong Greeley Central team looking to recapture the team title it won a year ago. But Greeley Central's and Umholtz's odds of repeating are long.
Kent Denver, the team that finished second at last year's state tournament, returns all four players after cruising to the championship in the Metro-East regional.
Steamboat coaches and players agree that Kent Denver is the tournament favorite, but they also expect Greeley Central, Cheyenne Mountain and Pueblo West to be competitive. The Sailors will be the hometown favorites, but they will need season-best showings from the entire team to make a title run.
Berry said he isn't worried about places and scores heading into his final high school tournament. He doesn't expect his high school career to be defined in terms of state championship results. Instead, he wants his career to be a mixture of random memories that include many tournaments and the teammates he has played with.
"I try not to expect too much," Berry said. "Golf is a very fickle game."
He says his performance and his teammates' will not be measured in terms of scores or places, but by the team's accomplishments on the course this season.
"It's not an easy thing to do, to get to the state tournament," coach Steve Dodson said. "I'm proud of these four guys and the entire varsity players on this team."
Next week's tournament also will mark the end of Tucker Campbell's high school golf career.
"Paul normally gets all the headlines, but we shouldn't forget about Tucker," Dodson said. "He's come a long way the past four years and is a big part of what this team is all about."
Campbell earned his first shot at the state tournament last year at the Wellshire Golf Course in Denver. He is hoping for a better showing in his second outing, but like Berry, he isn't basing his success on results.
"I just want to go out and try to have some fun," Campbell said. "This is my last shot, and I want to make the most of it."
Campbell knows there is going to be some added pressure on the Steamboat players because they are at home, but he can't think of a better place to hold the event.
"This is our home," Campbell said. "I started playing on this course, and I know it well. That's a huge advantage in golf."
It's an attitude that's shared by the team's younger members Taylor and Michael Weston.
"We know all the tricks," Taylor said.
Weston said he has been looking forward to playing in Steamboat since the start of the season, and he doesn't think there is going to be any more pressure on the Steamboat players.
"We know there will be a lot of people out here to watch us play," Weston said. "But we are all comfortable on this course. It's our home."
Four Sailors will compete at the state championships, but Dodson stressed that the team's success this year has been a group effort. He said that although varsity players like Jake Dombrowski, Kenyon Brenner and Cody and Cam Fritz will not be playing next week, their efforts should not be overlooked.
"Those guys are important pieces of the puzzle for this team," Dodson said. "Without them, we wouldn't be the team that we are."