CODY – The fall sports season is already beginning to heat up and before school officially starts for many kids around the county we’ve already seen a rivalry battle between two cross-county nemeses. Lander Valley High School (LVHS) and Riverton High School (RHS) compete in nearly every sport that the two schools have sanctioned, but one that falls by the wayside sometimes is the sport of golf where the RHS boys have won back-to-back state championships.
But, the RHS Wolverines faced a much tougher matchup at the 2023 Cody Invite during the middle of the week and it came in the form of their green-and-white rivals. The first day belonged to both Lander’s Owen Sweeney and Riverton’s Brodie Dale, both putting up an impressive score of 75 for first place.
Not far behind them was Riverton’s Kyler Graham (77), Lander’s Riley Stoudt (78) and Cody’s Logan Hall (78). As for the girls, on the first day of play it was obvious that Lovell’s Erika Cook is still one of the best golfers in the state no matter which gender you’re talking about. Cook put up a 69 in the first round, well above Lander’s Keigann Watson who finished the day in second place with an 86 and Riverton’s Tylynn McDonald (93).
The second day of play was just as exciting, if not more enthralling, than the first day thanks to a handful of local golfers all staying near the top without dropping off. Thanks to the consistency that both RHS and LVHS boys’ showed throughout the day the leaderboard was topped by six local golfers before Buffalo’s Wyatt Waller snuck into seventh place with a 78 on the second day.
Riverton’s Dale (72) and Graham (74) put up the two best scores of day two, propping them on top of the individual leaderboard with 147 and 151, respectively.
“Brodie and Kyler are both becoming very comfortable in pressure situations,” RHS Golf coach Lars Flanagan said. “Brodie showed great composure throughout the tourney … Whenever you are in contention to win there is additional pressure but he was always in control of his game and the tourney [and] Kyler has been very consistent for us which is a huge plus.”
But, right below the two Wolverines were four straight Tigers with Hunter Kihn (77) leading the pack with a 157 after his three-stroke improvement from his first day.
Kihn’s teammate, Lozier, has had some great golf already this year but he capped off a great second day with a 75 to secure his fourth-place finish with a grand total of 158, just one stroke shy of Kihn. Right behind those two was Sweeney and Stoudt who both ended with a total of 160.
Because of this stranglehold over the top six, the LVHS Tigers won their second-straight tournament of the 2023 Fall season. What’s even more impressive is this is only the second tournament of the year, meaning the Tigers are currently the team to beat despite Riverton’s 2021 and 2022 trophies sitting in their school.
LVHS finished the two-day tournament with a grand total of 635, 15 strokes ahead of RHS (650) in second and Cody (667) in third.
“It has been awesome to see that the work the boys put in over the summer playing has paid off for them,” LVHS Golf coach Mike Watson said. “The neat part is that we are not just relying on one or two players, it’s the entire team contributing a round here or round there. That gives us a lot of depth and consistency in each tournament we enter.“
For the women, McDonald had a much better day than her first attempt at Cody’s golf course. She put up an 88 on the second day, five strokes better than her first 18 holes, and that boost pushed her up into second place with a 181. Lander’s Watson struggled on the second day, shooting 20 more strokes than her first day and bumping herself down to fourth place with a 192.
Lander’s Morgan Hill had a major improvement on the second day though, boosting her 102 into a 95 to finish tied for seventh with Riverton’s Anika Stanley. One more Lady Wolverine finished in the top ten also, thanks to Aspen Ablard also knocking off some strokes on the final day with a grand score of 206.
All of them, as well as the rest of the girls playing, all ended under Lovell’s Cook who dominated the course with a 66, one of the best scores that the golf course has ever seen. Despite Cook’s talent leading all golfers, boy or girl, the Lady Wolverines ended up taking first place with a team total of 584, eight strokes ahead of Lovell (592). Lander’s girls finished in fourth with a total of 669.
“I believe this is the first tournament RHS girls have won since the state championship in 2019,” Coach Flanagan contemplated. “They have challenged themselves to improve their game and not just to settle on whatever they shoot on any given day.”
Up next, Riverton looks to get senior Parker Paxton back on their squad after competing at the U.S. Amateur Championship when they travel to Worland on August 18 and definitely by the time they head to Jackson and Star Valley between August 23 and 24. As for Lander, their home tournament resides next Monday and Tuesday, August 21 – 22, with the Terry Berg Invite at Lander Golf Course.
BY: Shawn O’Brate