So much for there being much of a transition from one classification to another for the Rifle High School boys golf team. Jordan Smith sure doesn't see it.
"No, not really," the coach of the Bears said when asked about his team's transition from the 3A to the 4A classification this fall. "It was actually a very smooth transition. And we improved, which was the goal from the beginning."
Thanks to that improvement, Rifle will play in the Class 4A State Championship tournament, scheduled for Oct. 1 - 2 at Cobble Creek Golf Course in Montrose.
"We knew coming into it that we were going to have to step it up a little bit," Smith said. "The individual 4A stroke averages are a little bit better, probably by about four strokes. So our guys always have a goal as a team to do better, win some tournaments and lower our scores. We just stepped up this year."
The tournament will be broken into threesomes, with each Rifle golfer teeing off from the first hole while others start from hole No. 10. Senior Danny Bartles will tee off with Evergreen's Sam Theil and Trevor Mckune of Mullen at 9:45 a.m., junior Ty Caron will tee off at 9:54 a.m. with Tristan Selby of Montezuma-Cortez and Taylor Mickelson of Thompson Valley, and senior Triston Quigley will go with Hayden Plewe of Cortez and Zach Dwyer of Thompson Valley at 10:03 a.m.
That Rifle trio came oh-so close to winning the Western Slope Regional tournament last week, forcing a playoff for the tournament title and losing by a stroke to Cortez on its home course. Also coming close to winning as an individual was Quigley (1-over 73), who finished third behind Palisade's Kyler Smith (2-under 70) and Jacob Rudosky of Cortez (even-par 72).
"I kept trying to blame myself for us not winning it," Quigley said. "I kept thinking if I would have made a putt here or a shot there, we would have won the thing. But I'm happy with the way we played, and I'm glad we're going as a team again."
Of course, Rifle went to state as a team at the 3A level, finishing second to Aspen at the 2011 regional tournament at Rifle Creek Golf Course before netting a 17th-place finish at the state tourney in Gunnison. When this fall's schedules were made in the spring, and with the possibility of moving up a classification looming for Rifle, Smith scheduled the Bears in tournaments that included old league teams like Aspen and Basalt, and possible new league teams like Montrose and Cortez.
It turned out to be the right move for the Bears, who won consecutive early season tournaments and netted a pair of late-season, second-place tournament finishes headed into the regional.
Now, with a familiar course in Cobble Creek coming up, Rifle hopes the experience it gained from playing down to the wire at the regional and playing against top-notch competition will pay dividends.
"I think we're better then last year," Bartles said. "Our goal is to shoot even par as a team, and I think there's a chance we can finish in the top three. But anything can happen in these things."