COLORADO SPRINGS — Mullen's boys golf team is poised to do something it hasn't accomplished in 18 years: Win a state championship.
The Mustangs, paced by Mario Dino, Rhett Johnson and Andrew Brady, posted a score of 231 in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament Monday at the Country Club of Colorado.
Mullen leads Cheyenne Mountain (235) by four strokes and Pueblo West (238) by seven strokes heading into tomorrow's final round. Three-time defending state champion Montrose is in fourth place with a score of 239.
"I'm very proud of what the guys did today," said Mullen head coach Jerry Koehler. "We had some very strong play from our first two players (Mario and Rhett). They came out, played tremendously well and stayed patient. You've got to do that on this course. Our third man, Andrew, played well but had a tough finish.
"But we still got in with three really good scores on this course considering these greens and pin placements. So it was a job well done."
The Mustangs have won seven boys golf state titles, with their last team victory coming in 2002.
"We're not done. We're not done by a long shot," Koehler admitted. "We know nobody is going to give this to us, so we've gotta go out (tomorrow) and we gotta take it."
Dino, a senior, shot a 74 to lead all players, while Johnson carded a 76 to finish the first round in a tie for second place. Brady double-bogeyed each of the last two holes and finished with a score of 81.
"It was a good round," said Dino, who led Mullen to the Region 3 championship by winning the individual title at Quail Dunes on Sept. 22. "But it's a really hard course. I'm happy with a 74. There were a few bumps in the road, but other than that, it was a great day."
Johnson nailed three birdies on the day before finishing with three bogeys on the last three holes.
"I left a couple putts out there," he revealed. "It was a tough course today with tough pin positions. Tomorrow will be the deciding day, but it will be a fun round to watch. We're pretty excited to be leading after the first day."
Noah Wagner and Toby Salinas of Pueblo West, Jordan Jennings of Montrose and Noah Keller of Coronado join Johnson in the logjam for second place, just two strokes off the lead.
"It was definitely a grind out there. It's a great golf course, and it definitely tests your game," said Jennings, who tied for 11th place at last year's state tournament. "I made a few good putts early to stay even. One bad swing on No. 8 and another tough break cost me a few strokes, but I knew I just had to keep it together and not get down on myself.
"I've just got to go out tomorrow and post a good score and see where I fall."
And how does he feel knowing that a fourth-straight title will be an uphill battle?
"We've had the pressure before so we know how to handle it," Jennings said calmly. "Some of the younger guys struggled a bit today, but they're good enough players and they'll play better tomorrow. So I'm looking forward to it; it's going to be good."