Between Classes 5A and 4A, Lauren Lehigh won a pair of girls golf state championships during her time at Loveland and was the last high school player to win a 5A state title in Colorado.
Her younger sister, Katelyn Lehigh, had designs on extending the Lehigh family's reign over Class 5A but the global pandemic cancelled the 2020 season, leaving the Loveland junior with a long while to heap expectations upon herself for when her opportunity would finally come. On Day 1 of the 5A state tournament at the newly redesigned City Park Golf Course, Lehigh didn't succumb to the pressure of living up to her family name in the final days of Season C.
Carding a two-over 72 on Monday, Lehigh will open Tuesday's final round in a tie for the lead with senior teammate Taylor Bandemer. The duo's first-day effort positioned their Loveland team with a 10-stroke lead in the team competition.
"My freshman year, we had state at Harmony and it got rained out to one day," Lehigh said. "So, that's the only state experience I've had because COVID cancelled last year. So, I was definitely really nervous coming into today. I feel like I set expectations for myself over the past couple of years to play well. I've played well all high school season and I just tried to settle down and play my game because you can't win it on the first day.
"The fear going in was that I would do something, it would blow up, and everything I've been working towards for the past two years would just suddenly be gone. That's not the case, so I'm really happy."
Both Lehigh, who tied for eighth in 2019, and Bandemer stayed steady throughout Monday's opening round. Bandemer birdied No. 8 and No. 13 to lower her score after starting 3-over through the first five holes. Lehigh birdied No. 9 to make the turn at 1-over and posted a lone bogey on the back nine to stay at 2-over on a mild-weather June day that didn't see any player go low.
"I played pretty solid golf. I hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens," Lehigh said. "I couldn't seem to get a put to the hole but my midrange putting really saved me today. I made a lot of five- and 10-footers for par. But nothing went drastically wrong, so I'm good."
It has been over two years since the last girls golf state championships and since 2018 that Eaglecrest's Emma Bryant won the 5A title as a freshman. Still in the hunt to reclaim the title from the Lehigh sisters, Bryant shot a 5-over 75 and will be three strokes behind the co-leaders when play resumes on Tuesday morning.
Right on the heals of the Loveland pair, Prairie View junior Lily Nelson sits third after carding a 73. Fossil Ridge junior Olivia Steen, who was fourth in 2019, is currently fourth at 74. Rock Canyon's Grace Dunkleberger, who tied Lehigh for eights place in 2019, and Mountain Vista's Abby Aeschleman are tied at 75 with Bryant in fifth place.
Ten strokes behind Loveland (225) in the team competition, Rock Canyon (235) will begin the second day in second place. Arapahoe (248) is third 23 strokes behind the front-running team.
"I think our girls were really tough and I'm really proud of how they played," Rock Canyon coach Ron Saul said. "They had some adversity out there and I really expect that they're going to make a run at it tomorrow. We're 10 shots back but you can make that up in a heartbeat. And they've got the talent to do it."
Fossil Ridge won the team title in 2019. Loveland was second, just one stroke back. Cherry Creek was third.
Pairing and tee times for Day 2 will be released Monday night.