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Smiling ‘til state

East Union’ Riley first girls golfer in school history to clinch state berth

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Smiling  ‘til state

East Union sophomore Brooke Riley is one of nine individuals to advance to the CIF State Golf Championships on Nov. 20 in Carmel.

JAMES BURNS/ The Bulletin/


POSTED November 4, 2013 11:51 p.m.

RIPON – For most of the afternoon, Brooke Riley greeted every shot, whether good or bad, with the same blank expression.

The drive that bounced off a tree and settled in the tall grass? The putt that slipped past the hole on the 14th hole, not once but twice?

No grimace or shoulder shrug.

Noto so  much as a  sigh or knee bend.

Nothing.

It wasn’t until she reached into the hole at No. 17 to fetch her prize that she showed her first bit of emotion – a rare smile.

“I saw coach Ron (Gutierrez) fist pump and say ‘Yeah!’ ” she said. “It made me laugh.”

With back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th holes at Spring Creek Country Club, Riley etched her name in the school’s record book.

Officially, she is the best to ever swing a club for the Lancers’ decorated girls golf program – and she’s only a sophomore.

Riley became the first in program history to clinch a state berth with a third-place showing at Monday’s Northern California Regional Championship.

Though she struggled mightily with the par-3s on the back nine, Riley recovered in time to finish with a 76.

The top three teams and nine individuals who are not on a top-three team qualified for the CIF State Championships, which will be held Nov. 20 at Quail Lodge Golf Course in Carmel.

St Francis of Mountain View captured the team title with a 423. Palo Alto, with medalist Michelle Xie, finished second with a 429. Amador Valley was third with a 444. East Union closed its banner season ninth (477).

“What we did this year, I’m proud of every girl on this team,” East Union co-coach Dennis Wells said. “We were talking about this, we’ve had a lot of great teams but this is one of the best we’ve ever coached.”

Xie was Monday’s top performer, playing Spring Creek at even par. She also aced the 184-yard third hole.

Acalanes’ Elizabeth Schultz was second with a 74, two strokes better than Riley.

Also advancing as individuals were: Emilee Hoffman, Vista Del Lago; Aman Sangha, San Mateo; Kathlee Scavo, Justin-Siena; Sabby Virtusio, Carondelet; Chloe Corriveay, Santa Catalina; and Virgie Velasquez, Roseville.

Riley showed her poise and resolve down the stretch. She made the turn at Spring Creek at 1-over – in perfect position to hunt down Xie and Schultz – but almost had her round busted by a double bogey on the par-3 13th.

“I need to work on my chip shots and try not to get so technical with them,” she said. “I was trying to get them in right by the pin and thinking too much about them.”

Riley finished 3-over on the par-3s on the back-nine, opening the door for doubt.

She quickly slammed it, though, with the perfectly-executed birdies on the 16th and 17th holes.

“It was hard,” the stoic sophomore said. “A double is always tough to shake. It sticks in your mind and makes you think. I tried not to think about them. My only thoughts were I had to make birdie.”

She did, knocking her approach on the 16th to within 15 feet. She sank the putt to move to 3-over.

Riley found the fairway on the 17th and then found the green, leaving herself a short, uphill putt.

When the ball plunged into the hole, a small cheering section celebrated the moment. East Union’s coaching triumvirate – Brian Goulart, Dennis Wells and Gutierrez – had predicted a 72 or 73 would put Riley into contention.

“She never gave up,” Goulart said. “That, to me, is her strongest suit. … Her willingness to fight till the end and never give up is a big part of who she is as a player and a person.”

Those birdies served as her RSVP. Not even a bogey on the 18th could derail those plans.

“That’s what separates her from the rest of the girls out there,” Wells said. “She can have one or two bad holes and still know she can come back with birdies. She’s mature and holds her head with great composure. … The second you get mad out there is the second you quit learning.”

Riley attributes much of her mental fortitude to former East Union star and 2012 state qualifier Will Brink, now a freshman at UC Davis.

She studied how he handled himself on the course in practice and matches, navigating those bad moments that can make or break a scorecard. 

Now she’ll get a chance to outperform the EU alum state level. Coincidentally, Brinks’ state championship appearance came at Quail Lodge. Riley was supposed to join Brink’s watch party but had obligations out of state.

No matter. She’ll get to experience Carmel from within the ropes. Riley will play a few practice rounds ahead of the championship, as well as study the course online.

“We think she has a great chance to win state,” Wells said. “We’re going to win it, not place second or third.”

Until then, Riley has no plans on masking her emotion. She’s elated to be headed to state and doesn’t care who knows it.

“I’ll probably be smiling ’til state,” she said.

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