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AIMING HIGH

East Union’s Riley not satisfied with historic season

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AIMING HIGH

Brooke Riley competed in the CIF State Championships as just a sophomore and is the first East Union female in school history to do so.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED December 24, 2013 1:51 a.m.

Surrounded by teammates who made the hours-long drive to cheer her on at the CIF State Championships, a defeated Brooke Riley finally let her guard down.

The unflappable sophomore cried tears of frustration, letting emotion runs its course. Two poorly played holes at Carmel’s Quail Lodge Golf Course vaporized her chance of becoming East Union’s first state champion.

Worse yet, the last of two triple-bogeys unfolded in front Stanford coach Anne Walker. Riley found a fairway bunker off the tee … and then another … and another.

“Usually I’m good with those shots,” said Riley, who finished the 18-hole tournament in 33rd place at 10-over-par. “But I was so nervous and thinking too much that I kept chunking them. Afterwards, when all my teammates crowded around me, I started to get emotional.”

The Bulletin’s two-time All-Area Girls Golfer of the Year didn’t stay down for long. She and East Union co-coach Dennis Wells have already begun the next phase in her evolution, fueled by what few struggles Riley experienced during a historic season.

“It motivates me even more, especially thinking about the colleges and coaches watching,” Riley said. “It makes me want to work even harder. I want to get back there and try to win it.”

Based on her age and dazzling credentials, few – if any – would bet against her.

She became the first girls golfer in school history to qualify for the state championships, following in the footsteps of friend and playing partner Will Brink who qualified as a senior in 2012.

Along the way, Riley anchored East Union’s run to a seventh straight Valley Oak League crown, breaking former Lancer Krysta Clark’s league record for lowest round with a 4-under 33 during a match at Manteca Park Golf Course.

She also fired a 77 at Diablo Grande’s Legends Course to help the Lancers annex their seventh Sac-Joaquin Section banner in eight years. 

East Union narrowly missed a Sac-Joaquin Section Masters championship, finishing one stroke back of Rocklin. That performance sent the entire team to the Northern California Regional Tournament at nearby Spring Creek Country Club.

There, Riley punched her ticket to state with back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th holes. Despite struggling mightily with the par-3s, she finished third with a 76.

“The difference between her freshman and sophomore year, of course her ball striking got better, but it was her composure and learning how to play golf courses,” Wells said. “She wasn’t afraid to make a mistake. The difference with her and some of the other good golfers, she wants it so bad. She wants it more than any player I’ve seen in the last 20 years.”

Which may explain the tears following state.

Riley was nearly flawless in her practice round at Quail Lodge the day before, but struggled to summon those same shots in a disheartening 81.

“She cried afterwards and got pretty upset,” Wells said. “I asked her the next day why she got so upset. She felt like she had let everybody down. I told her ‘You’ve got to learn from this. You’re going to have bad days. You have to learn and move on.’”

Riley was back on the range the next day with a bullet-point lesson plan, a list of junior tournaments and a new resolve.

She is currently undergoing a swing change after Wells detected a few flaws during her brilliant postseason run. Her right arm was disconnecting upon takeaway, and they believe by shortening her swing she can gain consistency.

Riley’s also focusing on her wedge play.

The process, she says, can be difficult, but it’s a necessary step in her progression as a golfer.

“Whenever you make big changes like this, it will be uncomfortable for awhile,” she said. “It’s just something I have to do be more consistent.”

Wells didn’t tell Riley about the changes and scope of their offseason work until after her run at state.

She handled the news like someone with a burning desire to be not just a local champion, but a state champion.

Riley has spent an hour on the range every day since the season ended, closing each session with chipping and putting drills. She also hopes to incorporate strength training into her already busy schedule.

To return to state, to avenge those tears, it will take a series of small steps.

“A lot of young kids think they need to succeed right when they get on the course. She had a great season. The team had a great season,” Wells said.

“But winning state wasn’t important. What was important was the work it took to get there.

“Some players, they try to do too much too quick instead of letting themselves become great players in small steps. That’s the way it should go.

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