Glenwood Springs trio leads Basalt High golf to state tournament at Spring Valley GC
Thanks to the playoff heroics of Braden Exelbert at regionals, the Basalt High School boys golf team will be exactly that at the state tournament: a team.
The senior was the third and final qualifier for the Longhorns, who will take to the Spring Valley Golf Club course in Elizabeth Monday and Tuesday, looking to make some noise in Class 3A.
“It will be a fun couple of days,” first-year Basalt coach Travis Stewart said. “I am so proud of these three young men. They’ve done great all season. What a great way to cap off the year. I’m looking forward to it. We are grateful we get to compete as a team.”
Basalt is sending Braden Exelbert, his sophomore brother Garrett Exelbert and sophomore Alec Claassen — all Glenwood Springs High School students who compete on the Longhorns’ all-district team — to state this fall after finishing third as a team in the Sept. 21 regional tournament in Cortez. With only the top two teams from regional earning the full team bid to state, Basalt’s players had to qualify individually and the three of them snuck in under the cutoff.
The state tournament combines a team’s top three individual scores, so having that third player is a big deal for the Longhorns. BHS only had two players compete at state last fall and couldn’t record a team score.
“It feels awesome. That playoff was super nerve-wracking. But it was worth it. It was cool to end like that and say I went to state for my senior year,” Braden Exelbert said of surviving the regional playoff. “My nerves will be better since I’ve done it before. Being there already will get me a little more prepared for this year.”
Braden is back at the state tournament for the second time. He also went as a sophomore, when BHS finished 10th as a team. That group included the oldest of the six Exelbert siblings, Blake, who was then a senior. Braden is now the senior leader of the state-bound trio, a role he’s embraced alongside a relatively youthful roster.
“I enjoyed it this year,” Braden said. “I kind of took the leadership role and helped everyone out. We had a freshman, Jackson (Stewart), so I was helping him with his first tournaments. It felt good being that leader of the team and helping everyone out.”
Basalt boys golf
While Braden is the lone senior at state, he’s not the only BHS player with state experience, as his brother Garrett went to state last fall as a freshman, alongside then-senior Tyler Sims. Garrett shot 74 and 78 for a two-day score of 152 to finish in 10th place, while Sims shot 157 (83-74) to finish in 21st place.
Aspen’s Nic Pevny paced the field to win the state championship last fall with 140 (69-71).
“I’m pretty excited. Got some higher goals and expectations this year. In these next couple of days I want to grind my game out and get my head right,” said Garrett, who has established himself as the team’s best golfer. “I’m hitting the ball a little farther, which definitely has helped me. And around the greens I’ve just been consistent, going up and down and saving pars, just having a steady season. Not really high numbers and not super low, but I’m hoping Monday and Tuesday I can change that and go pretty low.”
Claassen didn’t compete in many tournaments as a freshman last season and is headed to the state tournament this week for the first time. He had a strong showing at regionals, tying for seventh with 79, only three shots back of Garrett, who was fifth.
Pevny again won the regional tournament in Cortez with 69.
“The three of us have been playing pretty well lately,” Claassen said of the Longhorns. “Hopefully we can just all play well at state. It’s a big tournament. Hopefully all of our work pays off.”
The Longhorns opened the fall season on fire, winning multiple early-season tournaments. The team has cooled off somewhat this past month, but their confidence remains high entering state.
Unlike some teams, such as Aspen, that played the Spring Valley course in a tournament earlier this fall, Basalt will see it for the first time during Sunday’s practice round. Elizabeth is located on the prairie just southeast of Denver and will provide a different dynamic than many of the mountain courses BHS plays during the season.
“They are all cerebral players. They all understand golf. They are going to take advantage of that time, and we will try to equip them however we can and just try to gain some confidence and comfortability,” Travis Stewart said of Sunday’s scouting trip. “I feel like these guys, they can perform. It’s just always tough to do it under the pressure of the state championship.”
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