3A girls golf: Braecklein battles back while St. Mary's Academy earns team title

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

PUEBLO — As a freshman, Aubri Braecklein trotted around Elmwood Golf Course and finished at 19-over in the Class 3A girls golf state championship. She, like every other competitor that year, watched as Holy Family’s Hailey Schalk grabbed a six-stroke win.

Her sophomore year, she faced a four-stroke deficit to Colorado Academy’s Caroline Jordaan but the second day of the tournament at Eagle Valley Ranch was wiped out by weather.

In 2021, after her junior season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Braecklein decided that she wouldn’t be denied a third time. She entered the day trailing St. Mary’s Academy freshman Maddy Bante by three strokes but fired a 2-under-par 69 to battle back and win the state championship in her final high school competition.

“This is really special,” Braecklein said. “I’ve had a rough season. I hurt my wrist and I’ve been trying to battle back from that so that made today really special.”

She had her moments where her round was looking spectacular. She got her first birdie of the day on the par 5 third hole then landed her tee shot on No. 6 within two feet of the cup. But it was her shot on the par 3 seventh that truly made it feel like it was going to be her day.

Aubri Braecklein's putt on 18 falls into the cup to give her the 2021 3A girls golf state title. (Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

The ball landed on the right side of the green then started rolling forward and banking left, toward the direction of the pin. She was a foot away from a hole-in-one, but felt like she had every bit of momentum at that point.

“I knew I was close, but I didn’t think it was tap-in range,” Braecklein said. “It was a lot closer than I thought.”

Bante did her best to keep up with Braecklein’s pace, but the course wasn‘t as favorable to her Tuesday as it was in Round 1.

Too many times it looked as though her putts were going to fall but they ended up missing the cup by inches on either side. She didn’t quite finish her hunt to become the first freshman to win the 3A title since Schalk in 2017 but competing on that stage gave her valuable experience that she’ll look to apply in the future.

“I need to stay the course and not think too far ahead,” Bante said. “I have to think about the next shot and follow what I think is right and just do what I need to do.”

She’s far from going away empty-handed. Bante and teammate Natalie Tatar finished second and third on the individual leaderboard and Mallory Hopper finished in a tie for 11th after firing an 86. Those scores were good enough to win a team state title, the first girls golf title in school history, the second overall team championship in school history and the first since a field hockey title in 2008.

“It’s really special because I know that I made a difference that helped our team win,” Bante said. “I couldn’t have done it without the other three players we had in Reese (Brown), Natalie and Mallory.”

They also did it for their coach. Ann Wolta Blackstone is in her third battle with breast cancer and watching the way her team battled through two days of competition had her fighting back tears when trying to process the weight that the accomplishment carried.

“It’s such an amazing feat,” Wolta Blackstone said. “In all these years we’ve never won state and we’ve never even won regionals. I’m so proud of my girls. It was such an amazing and beautiful thing to watch.”

And they’ll have a chance to do it again. Bante and Brown are freshmen, while Tatar and Hopper are both juniors.

All of them will be back looking to win more gold in the spring of 2022.

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)