WALLA WALLA — Coach Mike Rostollan predicted that if tournament favorite Spokane stumbled — even a little bit — there were several rivals eager to take advantage.
And the Sasquatch did stumble — just a smidge — and found themselves in fourth place after Sunday’s opening round of the NWAACC Championships men’s golf tournament at Veterans Memorial Golf Course.
Rostollan’s Walla Walla squad proved to be the most opportunistic of them all.
The Warriors fashioned a first-round score of 291 for their top four scores and took a one-shot lead over Southwest Oregon into today’s second and final round of play at the Walla Walla Country Club. Green River was seven strokes off the pace after posting a 298 score and Spokane came next at 301, 10 shots behind the front running Warriors.
“Spokane’s top player (Evan Omelia) shot a 78,” Rostollan noted. “And the rest of their guys, per person, shot a couple of shots higher than normal. So they stumbled just enough to open the door for some of the rest of us.
“Game on! We’re going to see what happens.”
Walla Walla’s surge to the top of the field was led by sophomore Andrew Grove, who narrowly made the Warriors’ varsity roster and was playing in the No. 6 position. Grove rode a fast start and a steady finish to a 1-under-par 71 that gave him a share of first place in the field of 53 with NWAACC Player of the Year Broc Johnson of Green River.
“He played great,” Rostollan said of Grove. “I was hoping that he could stay around par, and he did.
“He rolled it great,” Rostollan added of Grove’s putting stroke. “Even those that didn’t go in looked like they might.”
Grove and Johnson were just one shot in front of a pair of Southwest Oregon players, Andy Clayton and Cole Chavez, who matched par-72 and were tied for third place. Four more players, including Walla Walla’s Cole Sajonia and Grant Geelan, were in at 73 and just two shots off the lead.
Walla Walla’s fourth counting score came from Brennon Lancaster, who was in a three-way knot for ninth place after shooting 74. Mike Ciez shot 76 and Sage Ceniga 79 for the Warriors’ two non-counting scores.
“My other counters are right there in contention,” Rostollan said.
“I’m looking for a little more from Mike,” the coach said of Ciez, who entered the tournament as WWCC’s No. 1 player. “He was four over par after four holes and still managed to shoot 76, so maybe he will play a little bit better today.”
Green River’s Madeleine Ottosson carded a 4-over-par 76 to take a one-shot lead over Bellevue’s Suchada Anusuriya in the field of 29 women. The Gators’ Britney Thurber was alone in third place with a 79, Columbia Basin’s Bri Hadler shot 80 to hold down fourth place and Walla Walla’s Stephanie Bullock and Bellevue’s Jamie Kirsila were tied for fifth place after matching 83s.
Kelsy Bigness shot 86 for WWCC’s second counting score and Kelsey Sage fired an 88 for the third. Austin Snyder and Shay Jones turned in non-counting 101 scores.
Bellevue held the team lead with a 245 score, followed by Green River 249, Walla Walla 257, Columbia Basin 258 and Centralia 340. Olympic and Grays Harbor entered incomplete teams.
“Our girls are in pretty good shape,” Rostollan said of his women’s team. “I thought they played well.
“Stephanie (Bullock) will be playing in the second-to-last group, and a magical day for her might get her into the top three. I think the girls have it in them to move up a spot.”
The Memorial course played considerably more difficult than it did the last time the NWAACC Championships were held in Walla Walla, Rostollan said.
“The firmness of the greens might have had something to do with it,” he said. “And I know that some people had trouble with the new sand in the bunkers. It was a little deeper and fluffier than before. And some of the pin placements were tricky.
“But I was surprised at how high the scores were,” he added. “The last time we played here, the two-day winning score was 17 under and there were red numbers all over the place. This time the golf course held its own.”
Rostollan was expecting more of the same today at the country club.
“The greens are firm and fast and super true,” Rostollan said. “The rough is going to be the biggest factor, because the ball can really nestle down in that long rough.
“Good players will be able to get around in 67 or 68 on their very best day. But I’m thinking one or two under par will be good enough, and any team score under 300 will be a good team score.”
And finally, Rostollan will be keeping close tabs on Grove today as he bids for an NWAACC title.
“I just want him to stay close and be competitive,” Rostollan said. “He’s going eyeball to eyeball with the best player in the field.”
At Veterans Memorial Golf Course
Broc Johnson, Green River 36-35—71
Andrew Grove, Walla Walla 34-37—71
Andy Clayton, SW Oregon 35-37—72
Cole Chavez, SW Oregon 34-38—72
Jack Tumilison, Columbia Basin 37-36—73
Cooper Wright, Spokane 35-38—73
Cole Sajonia, Walla Walla 36-37—73
Grant Geelan, Walla Walla 36-37—73
Tyler Swinton, SW Oregon 36-38—74
JD Hurd, SW Oregon 39-35—74
Brennan Lancaster, Walla Walla 40-34—74
Jack Strickland, Bellevue 38-37—75
Casey Brown, Grays Harbor 37-38—75
Kevin McCrossin, Green River 38-37—75
Brandon Barlow, Green River 36-39—75
Kurt Simmons, Spokane 35-40—75
Justin Wiles, SW Oregon 38-37—75
Branning Luvaas, Olympic 37-39—76
Ben Vandenberg, Spokane 37-39—76
Dustin Oshiro, Skagit Valley 34-42—76
Mike Ciez, Walla Walla 41-35—76
Erick Frank, Bellevue 40-37—77
Austin Geiger, Green River 37-40—77
Keynan Fanslow, Olympic 40-37—77
Cole Lorenzo, Spokane 37-40—77
David Fugate, Skagit Valley 36-41—77
TEAM SCORES (Top Four Scores) — Walla Walla 291, Southwest Oregon 292, Green River 298, Spokane 301, Bellevue 308, Skagit Valley 313, Columbia Basin 315, Olympic 315, Grays Harbor 315.
Madeleine Ottosson, Green River 37-39—76
Suchada Anusuriya, Bellevue 39-38—77
Britney Thurber, Green River 393-40—79
Bri Hadler, Columbia Basin 41-39—80
Jamie Kirsila, Bellevue 40-43—83
Corey Rois, Bellevue 41-44—85
Hope Neidhold, Columbia Basin 42-43—85
Leslie Guzman, Olympic 44-42—86
Kelsy Bigness, Walla Walla 41-45—86
Hal Swisher, Grays Harbor 44-43—87
Kelsey Sage, Walla Walla 45-43—88
Kayce Ogishima, Bellevue 41-46—89
Cindy Pitkin, Spokane 44-46—90
Brigid Rypien, Spokane 47-44—91
TEAM SCORES (Top Three Scores) — Bellevue 245, Green River 249, Walla Walla 257, Columbia Basin 258, Spokane 274, Centralia 340, Olympic and Grays Harbor incomplete.