Sports

Castilleja makes history at CCS golf finals with runnerup finish

Gators finish second and earn first-ever trip to NorCal Championships

Normally at this time of the year, members of the Castilleja golf team are either putting away their clubs and heading off to a winter sport or gearing up for junior tournaments. This season, however, is different for the Gators after they made some history on Tuesday at the Central Coast Section Championships.

For the first time ever, Castilleja advanced past the section tournament while qualifying for the NorCal Championships. Thus, the season continues for the Gators, who will compete on Monday at Stockton Country Club.

"We're just excited to go and play over there," said Castilleja coach Jim Miller.

Castilleja became the first golf team from the West Bay Athletic League, or the old Private Schools Athletic League, to advance past the CCS tourney after the Gators finished second with a team score of 428 at the Rancho Canada East Golf Course in Carmel Valley.

St. Ignatius won the team crown with 419 strokes while Presentation earned the third berth for NorCals with a 437. Members of all the qualifying teams also will compete as individuals on Monday, and still could advance to the state championships even if their team does not.

That's certainly a scenario for Castilleja senior Brenna Nelsen, who shot a 3-over 75 and wound up in a three-way tied for third. A similar effort on Monday could move the Harvard-bound Nelsen into her first-ever appearance in the state finals.

Nelsen and her teammates, along with Miller, will travel to Stockton on Sunday and walk the course that afternoon. None of the competitors are allowed to play the course until Monday.

This all new territory for the Gators, who took advantage of a rule change to make school history. In previous years, only the top four of six scores counted. This season, five of six scores counted.

"Counting five really helped us, and in our league," said Miller, whose squad went 9-1 in dual matches this season and shared the league title with Sacred Heart Prep.

Had the teams still been counting the top four scores, Santa Catalina would have won the title on Tuesday with a 326. Its No. 5 scorer, however, finished with a 113 and the team wound with a 439, missing a NorCal berth by three shots.

"I told our sixth player, (freshman) Ellie Zales that her score could count," said Miller, and he was right.

For sure, it was a team effort for Castilleja. Nelsen led the way on the tricky 5,278-yard course that features the Carmel River on five holes during the front nine. Nelsen was 5-over on the front nine but 2-under on the back as she birdied the 416-yard par-5 15th, the 439-yard par-5 16th and the 84-yard par-3 17th.

Senior Sarah Debs provided a huge lift with her 79, her second sub-80 round in as many tournaments. Freshman Caroline Debs was solid with an 89 while sophomore Taylor Wilkerson shot 90. Zales capped the scoring with her 95, but senior Stephanie Merenbach was just a shot back as the Gators held off Presentation by nine shots.

The day started off cool and breezy, which dried out the greens and made putting difficult. By the afternoon, the weather had turned perfect.

Perhaps appropriately, the Castilleja players stopped at Yogurt Heaven for a well-deserved snack on the way home.

A heavenly finish for the Gators, either way.

That wasn't the case for the Sacred Heart Prep girls or a trio of other local players. The Gators, the only team to beat Castilleja during the regular season, finished sixth with a 459 team total. SHP's first three players -- junior Rachael Henry (77), junior Shelby Soltau (88) and junior Kennedy Shields (89) -- had a combined score of 254. The Gators' final three contestants, however, shot a combined 330.

Gunn's Jayshree Sarathy, competing as an individual, shot a fine 3-over 75 but had to compete in a playoff with Mitty's Lauren Salazar and lost it -- costing her a trip to NorCals. Pinewood's Kimberly Beers finished with an 89 while Menlo's Gabby Girard shot 101.

-- Keith Peters

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