Jason Sitterud didn’t say a whole lot during a practice round for the Granite Bay High School girls team at Poppy Hills Golf Course on Monday. He didn’t say much at a team dinner later that day.
What he did tell his team is simply this:
Just enjoy the experience.
“They relaxed,” said Sitterud, the Grizzlies’ head coach, and Assistant Athletic Director. “We got some good ice cream (Monday) night and so they were happy.”
Granite Bay, a team that has been so dominant all season long, was on top of its game, getting four scores in the low 70s and all-around exceptional play at the 2021 CIF State Girls High School Championship.
Tavia Burgess, Ellie Bushnell, Hannah Harrison, and Anika Varma all fired 1-over-par 72s and Lauren Pierce carded an 83, leading Granite Bay to a 371 team total as the Grizzlies won their first state title on Tuesday in very challenging conditions, with a combination of wind, fog and cooler temperatures at Poppy Hills.
Five scores are used in the team scoring format. Granite Bay finished at 16-over.
Burgess, Bushnell, Harrison, and Varma each tied for seventh place individually.
“They went through the course during a practice round,” said Sitterud. “They share notes, they compare notes, they talk, they strategize, and they work together. That’s kind of the coolest part. It’s not about one person. They do a great job of talking and helping each other out. I think they build confidence off each other.”
Granite Bay has been to the state finals before, with fourth-place finishes in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
“We finished fourth the last three times. And each time I think we got a little nervous,” said Sitterud.
The Northern California and state championships were canceled last year due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CIF State said.
“We were kind of bitter, obviously, because last year we didn’t have the tournament,” said Sitterud. “We had a strong team last year also.”
Sitterud said the goal was to “take care of businesses and at least be in contention, to have a chance to win” at state this year.
The road to Poppy Hills began back in August for Granite Bay, with the Grizzlies winning:
- The Sierra Foothill League title for the sixth straight year and ninth time overall.
- The CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I Champion at Rancho Murieta for the sixth year in a row. The Grizzlies shot 376.
- The CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championship at the Reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton for the sixth straight year. They shot 384. Bushnell was a low medalist, shooting a 70.
Granite Bay advanced to state by finishing second at the Northern California Regional Championship on Nov. 8 at Berkeley Country Club, located in El Cerrito.
“We’ve had a great run of girls before who kind of established that legacy that these girls have lived up to,” said Sitterud. “That’s what is exciting – great girls in the past, that set a great example for these girls.”
Granite Bay is not only one of the greatest programs in the state. The Grizzlies are also one of the top teams in state history – evidenced by their talent, depth, experience, and scoring.
“This is an exceptional group of people. I just couldn’t be happier and more proud of this particular group of young ladies,” said Tim Healy, Granite Bay’s Athletic Director. “This group of girls exemplifies that idea of a team. They really support each other. They’re there for each other, and exponentially, they make each other better. And as an athletic director, that’s really what you want to see out of your kids – great young people picking each other up and doing things for each other. It was great to watch.”
Granite Bay set the tone early on, jumping out in front by as much as an 11-stroke team margin at 12 p.m., with the group of Burgess, Bushnell, Harrison, and Varma leading the charge.
Taylor Peterson shot a 91 for Granite Bay.
Northern California teams took the top 3 spots, with Palo Alto finishing second with a 387 total and Valley Christian-San Jose taking third with a 388.
Troy-Fullerton was fourth at 395, Carlsbad was fifth at 400, and Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks was sixth at 407.
Granite Bay was presented with the championship trophy. It will be put into the trophy case in the school gym.
Photos of the team were taken afterward near the ninth hole, the finishing hole of the day. Poppy Hills was set up as a par-71, 5,967-yard layout.
“Their course management is just impeccable. That’s what I have always learned from them. It’s just how they manage the course and negotiate the short game,” said Sitterud.
“They’re all very self-motivated and they’re very methodical in their practice, especially their short game. Their short games are tremendous.
“I always think, as good as they are on the golf course, they’re even better people. They’re fun to be around. They’re very polite. They’re respectful. They work hard in the classroom. It’s just impressive what they do both on and off the course.”
The team dinner, said Burgess, helped to take the player’s minds off of the state finals.
“It really meant a lot to me, because I was able to help my team get the state title,” said Burgess. “I enjoyed being on this team.
“I think our mindset was just to do the best that we can.”
Harrison said she is very proud of all the work that everyone put into the season – the commitment to practices and spending so much time on their games.
“I think that our team has worked really hard. I’m just really proud of the team,” she said. “I’m excited to take home the first state title for the girl’s golf team.
“The conditions were a little bit rough today. But everyone did great.”
Harrison will attend Washington State after she graduates next year and play on the women’s golf team.
Varma said she was feeling the effects of jet lag after traveling from Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where she shot 10-under-par 278 and tied for ninth at the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship.
“It’s always worth it for the team,” said Varma, who will attend the University of Oregon after her graduation and play for the women’s golf team.
She didn’t back down from the challenging conditions.
“You just keep on doing it for your team. They motivate you and you just keep on working hard because you want to bring everyone together and work toward the same thing. It’s nice because everyone did their best today. It just means a lot to play on a team. I’m going to remember this forever.”
Varma won the California State Fair Women’s Golf Championship in September at Bartley Cavanaugh Golf Course.
Pierce and Peterson expressed their joy and elation over Granite Bay’s title.
Pierce said: “We all played really well. I think the conditions were tough. I don’t think any of us were quite used to it from where we usually play with the fog and the wind.”
Peterson said: “I’m super happy with how well we did and because we worked really hard on. Every week we practiced. I think just overall we did an amazing job.”
Bushnell, one of the top junior players in Northern California, said there is a strong bond that connects the team, with the players sharing a passion for competition in matches and tournaments.
“We’re so lucky to have such a great group of girls,” said Bushnell. “We all work really well together. We’re all really connected. We’re good friends. So to do this as a team means a lot.
“We came into this knowing we had a good chance because we’re all competitive golfers and so the goal was to just kind of do our thing and just play as good as we can. Mainly it’s all about having fun.
“The fact that we were able to do it, to pull together as a team and everybody play awesome golf, super proud of everybody. It means a lot that this time we got it because last year due to COVID we didn’t have a state championship.”
Bushnell is an accomplished junior player who won the Sacramento Valley Women’s Amateur Championship in June at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex’s Alister MacKenzie Golf Course.
She was named as the Girls Player of the Year by the Junior Golf Association of Northern California in 2020 after winning five tournament titles. She tied for first place in the girls 14-18 division at the Tournament of Champions at Silverado Resort and Spa’s North Course in Napa with a 2-under-par 70.
The weather changed later in the day, with fog sweeping across some of the holes on the course and a cool breeze blowing around 1 p.m. Earlier in the day, it was partly cloudy.
“Damp conditions and everything, especially if you’re from a dry area, like a lot of Northern California and Southern California, you won’t get as much roll off your drives,” said Karl Rodefer, tournament chairman and a member of the Northern California Golf Association Board of Directors. “It might have some effect, but I think the course played pretty well today.”
Rodefer marveled at the low-scoring turned in by the players.
“These girls are playing this course lights out. There are really some top performances out there today,” he said.
The CIF state event is managed by the NCGA. The organization’s headquarters are at Poppy Hills.
Leigh Chen of University High-Irvine won the individual title, tying for first place in regulation play with Ashley Yun of Walnut, each player with 3-under 68s.
Chen won the title on the first hole in a sudden-death playoff.
* Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.