Photo slideshow by Devin Chen
By Jeremy Balan
Lowell High School may have won its second consecutive Academic Athletic Association boys golf championship on Monday at Lincoln Park Golf Course, but it was a pair of sophomores that provided the drama of the afternoon.
Battling a steady rain that began on the 12th hole, Balboa sophomore Ben Olsen clinched the AAA individual title with a 7-over 75, the lowest score in the championship in four years.
With relatively good weather, Olsen began with a bogey on the first hole, birdied the second, then rattled off eight consecutive pars.
“I was cruising ’til it started raining, then I started giving bogeys away,” Olsen said. “I couldn’t finish [the way I’d like], but I’ll take 75 in these conditions.”
The conditions were certainly a factor and Olsen may have gotten the best trip out, being in the first group. The lone Balboa competitor first faced the rain on the 12th hole, while most of the pack hit the rain on the front nine.
“He held it together and did a great job considering the weather was terrible,” said Balboa head coach Brian Risi. “We didn’t know what the pairings would be, but Ben seemed OK with it and I think it really worked out.”
With the five remaining groups more than two hours behind Olsen and partner Marcus Wong from Lincoln, Olsen had to sit in the clubhouse, eagerly awaiting the final results, and got a scare from the next group in.
Washington sophomore Joey Yasuhiro came into the 18th hole at 5-over, two ahead of Olsen, but triple bogeyed the final hole, mostly due to a lost ball in an unmowed area of rough, to finish second with an 8-over 76.
“It was tough. It’s something I’ll regret, but I can only learn from that,” Yasuhiro said. “The round was a real test of patience. It was soggy and wet, especially when they had the tees back. You really had to stay focused on staying in play.”
The individual competition may have stolen the drama, but it does not diminish the Cardinals’ accomplishment. Lowell never trailed and took the team title 449-461 over Washington, led by a 12-over 80 from 2010 individual champion Tom Ebergen.
“They played in the same conditions last year and nobody quit,” said Lowell head coach Mitch Wagner. “It’s easy to quit when it’s cold and raining, but they just keep encouraging each other out there.”
The score was actually quite lopsided heading into the final group, but the Eagles got a considerable lift from an unlikely source.
Playing in his first tournament of the season, junior Avery Velasco came in with an 83 in the final group, outscoring both Lowell opponents in the group by 27 strokes each. Velasco missed the regular season playing as a starter on the Washington baseball team.
“We had a couple of people who didn’t play well and if they [scored] their average, we might have won,” said Washington head coach Dave Lauter. “We all felt good about adding Avery to the roster. Everyone knows Avery and he’s a competitive guy. It was nice to see him do well.”
Lowell and Olsen will advance to play in the Northern California championship at Butte Creek Country Club in Chico on May 23.
AAA schools have struggled mightily in recent years, but Olsen specifically has his eyes set on advancing even further.
“I want to qualify for the state championship — fifth, sixth, whatever it takes to get to Pebble Beach,” Olsen said.
Top 10 finishers
1. Ben Olsen, Balboa – 75
2. Joey Yasahiro, Washington – 76
3. Tom Ebergen, Lowell – 80
4. Edwin Mak, Lowell – 82
5. Avery Velasco, Washington – 83
6. Scott Bang, Lowell – 85
7. Mario Krieger, Lincoln – 90
8. Sean Li, Lowell – 92
9. Giffin Ong, Washington – 93
10. Marcus Wong, Lincoln – 94