It had been a decade since the Fort Lewis College men’s golf team contended seriously for a conference championship. That was until this week.
The Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championships began Sunday and finished Tuesday at Wigwam Golf Resort in Litchfield Park, Arizona. Freshman Nicholas Krantz shot an opening-round 3-under-par 69 to take the early lead before fading a bit, but the entire Skyhawks team elevated their play throughout the three rounds to finish in second place at 26-over as a team.
No. 23 Colorado State University-Pueblo won the tournament at 10-over. FLC finished two shots ahead of Colorado Mesa and seven in front of Colorado School of Mines. Fifth place went to Colorado Christian, which shot 34-over.
For FLC, it was the team’s best finish at the conference championships since it won in 2011. FLC hadn’t placed better than fifth since then, with that result coming in 2017.
“These guys are tough and are learning how to close,” FLC head coach Jim Foltz said in a news release. “Although we didn’t win, they closed the door on a lot of teams chasing us for second. Our guys played extremely well. CSU-Pueblo just played a little better this week.
“The men really wanted this bad. They wanted to compete for a RMAC Championship. So, it goes without saying they are ecstatic. They took us to a different level this season.”
Darren Edwards, a junior from Loveland, tied for second after he shot 2-over through the three rounds, highlighted by his 1-under round to close the tournament. He bounced back from shooting 3-over on the opening day to finish tied with CSU-Pueblo’s Jamie Roberts.
The individual championship went to Andrew Ni of CSU-Pueblo, who shot 3-under for the tournament.
“His chip on 18 lipped out, did a 360 around the hole and looked back at him,” Foltz said of Edwards’ 54th and final hole of the tournament. “If he’d have made that, he would have had second place to himself. Darren is an anomaly. He’s extremely loyal to the program, he loves Fort Lewis and he practices hard. And when you practice as hard as he does, you bring other players with you because they see him out there putting in the time to get where he is.”
Edwards will hope to earn an invitation to the South Central Regional tournament after the tie for second.
FLC junior Samuel Salisbury shot 79 in the opening round but rallied with rounds of 73 and 71 to finish at 7-over and tied for 12th. Riley Rottschafer, a sophomore, also shot 79 in his opening round but shot 71 and 74 in his final two rounds to tie for 14th at 8-over.
Krantz followed up his opening round of 69, which matched South Dakota Mines’ Joseph Vincent for the low round of the tournament, with an 81 in his second round. But he finished with a 75 on Tuesday to close the tournament at 9-over and tied for 16th.
“Nick had never led a tournament as big as the RMAC Championships, and under the circumstances, I thought he handled it fantastic as a freshman,” Foltz said. “He didn’t let the 81 faze him and came back strong today. The experience he gained from having that Day 1 lead was invaluable. I had a lot of coaches come up to me and ask, ‘Who is this Nicholas guy?’ because he is a freshman and no one really knows about him yet. He learned a lot this week that will make him a better golfer.”
Also competing for FLC, senior Blake Kuzava finished 32-over to place 45th.
With a stable of young players on the squad all pushing each other, Foltz is confident the Skyhawks can continue to contend at the RMAC Championships for years to come.
“It took us about three years to build this program to where I felt comfortable,” he said. “And right now, I feel extremely comfortable with the kids we’ve recruited and the talent we have coming back. We have seven players coming back next year that can shoot under par. We’ve shown we can play well and play with top teams in our conference and region.”