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They often say the best thing about golf is it's a sport you can do for life. Doesn't matter what your age; 5-50, 60-100, you can always golf.
For the Sunnyside girl's golf team, they are proof you can pick up a club and with a little practice, determination and effort, you can succeed. You don't have to play every day to be successful.
"This group of girls had not touched a club coming into their freshmen year," stated Sunnyside girl's golf coach, Ryan Cullen adding, "The five of them also golfed very little out of season."
He went on to state the team works hard during the season but don't have the luxury other high school golfers have. "Other teams in our league (4A Columbia Basin Big Nine), have athletes that all they do is golf," said the 2003 Grizzly graduate."
They golf with their families on weekends and work out with trainers multiple times throughout the year," he continued. "These are things you need to do in any sport to be competitive at a high level."
Cullen should know. An assistant coach for the SHS football team, he is part of a coaching staff that has seen the school become one of the best in the state.
Although the Lady Grizz golf team is golfing at state during the last week in May, (23-25), it's only part of the story.
"We literally went from Bad News Bears-style golf shooting in the 150's and 140's their freshmen year, to breaking 110 on several occasions," explained Cullen.
For those who are not familiar with golf scores, that means if a hole was a par 3 or 4, (expected swings from teeing off to putting the ball in the hole on the green), the Lady Grizzlies were shooting a 6 and 8, or worse. Now, they are at par, or just one over.
He went on to add, "The fact we could finish in 2nd place is such a huge deal. I have had other girls in the past that have been good." He mentioned Kaycee Hazzard who went to state in 2019 as an individual, but pointed out SHS has never had enough players qualify as a team.
Three keys to their success was Alyna Ramirez who placed sixth in the league, Mackenzie Chambers, who was eighth and Jessa Hellner Gomez, who was tenth. (All three girls made 2nd team all-league.)
The seeds for their success began back in February when Cullen had a senior golf meeting.
"I was going to be gone the first day of practice," remembered Cullen, "And I wanted to set the girls up."
He told them that if they ever had a chance of making it to state, this was the year. "Three months later, we are here!," he said.
He further emphasized that all the golfers heading to state are seniors which means they battled through all the Covid stuff, which have made things for all seniors difficult; losing their sophomore year entirely and having a shortened season as juniors.
"I can't express how impressed I am with these young ladies," said Cullen. "Before the tee time at districts, I told them it doesn't matter how we do today. I'm super proud of all of you and today will not define your success in this sport or in life."
"You are all strong young women who are really going to make a difference. No," he added, "You are headed to state!"
Sunnyside golf has had it's moments of success in the past, but despite its illustrious history, they have never qualified a girl's golf team to state. It has Cullen beaming.
"That's what makes this special," notes Cullen. "The girls that power the group, the Lady Grizz Fab 5!"
(Photo L-R) Lily Potter, Jessamyn Hellner-Gomez, Mackenzie Chambers, Coach Ryan Cullen, Alyna Ramirez, and Hailey Schlosser.
This article underwritten by Prosser Memorial Health and Greene's Point S Tire.
The dream started in 1995 when the West beat the East 19-12 in an all-star football game that gave kids from small schools a chance to play in an all-state game.
Overall, there have been 25 renditions of the game with the West winning 13 times and the East 12. (In the last contest in 2019, the East won 37-6.)
But, like everything in sports over the past couple years, the Earl Barden Classic was severely affected by Covid.
It forced the organizers to cancel the game in both 2020 and 2021. But this year, 60 kids will be on display Saturday, June 25 at East Valley's Earl Barden Field.
"People are super excited," stated event organizer, Mark Mochel. He went on to explain that each player is given 40 tickets and they went fast in places like Deer Park. "Jason Grant (Toppenish) also sold his quickly and wanted more."
Mochel expects Earl Barden Field in Moxee to have over 2,000 fans in attendance. It also makes the return of the game from Yakima's Zaepfel Stadium to the original site.
The late Bill Alexander (Coach Alex to those that knew him), along with Barden were instrumental in getting the game started as a way to give small school kids a chance to 'showcase' their talents for their fans one last time. (They were often overlooked by the big 4A and 3A schools in all-star competition.)
This year's coaches are Wiley Allred, of Royal for the East and Jeff Weible of North Kitsap for the West. Both have enjoyed a lot of success at their respective schools in the past. They are also highly involved at the state level, serving on the WIAA's seeding committee.
There are several standouts to keep an eye on, but two names you might want to make a note of include Grant of Toppenish and Kaiden Rivera of Prosser.
Grant was one of the most dominant high school athletes last year as he helped lead the Wildcats to their deepest run in the playoffs since their state championship years with Ryker Labbee.
Ironically, Toppenish was knocked out of the playoffs by eventual champion, Royal and it will be interesting to see what Allred does with him.
Rivera, who just capped a remarkable career with the Mustangs, is a storybook legend.
Asked to step into the starting position when Haden Hicks went down with an injury Rivera's sophomore year, he put up 50 passes and never stopped throwing. Like all seniors, he missed one season and part of another due to Covid, so you wonder what he really would have accomplished with three complete years.
But, the fact he was playing quarterback was surprising. He was a wide receiver his freshman year and really hadn't played the position since he was in Grid Kids.
Locals joining both Rivera and Grant will be:
2A CWAC: Zac Rocha, Othello; Titan Nelson, Selah; Mikey Ray, Selah; Teagan Moser, East Valley.
1A SCAC West: Davis Fry, College Place; Carson Riner, Connell; Grant Osborn, Naches Valley; Julian Rodriguez, Naches Valley; Derek Bergesen and Gunnar Anderson of Royal; Jason Grant, Toppenish; Kanim Sampson, Toppenish; Braydon Flood, Zillah; Zane Delp, Zillah.
2B EWAC West: Jorge Ibarra, Highland; Matt Blain, Goldendale; Caleb Smith, Goldendale.
For the West, a player to keep an eye on is Colton Bower of North Kitsap.
"We've got a good mix of kids," noted Mochel, also East Valley's girl's golf coach. "Obviously, having coached so many years at Toppenish, those kids are near and dear to my heart, but I'm also excited to have someone like Jorge Ibarra from Highland."
This will not only be the first game in which Mochel is the chief coordinator of the event, but it will also be the first without Alexander, who passed away this past spring.
"We spoke all the time and he always had great advice for me," Mochel stated. "I am deeply saddened by his loss, but it might have been his way of saying, 'OK, it's time for you to make your own path.'"
The Earl Barden Classic will kick off at 1PM today; Saturday, June 25 at 1PM.
Tickets are $10 at the door, or you can stream it online for the same cost. Click the button on the right for all the information you need about the game.
Coaching the East will be Wiley Allred of Royal and the West will be led by Jeff Weible of North Kitsap. Click the button below to get all sorts of info on the game today.
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