KALISPELL — Survive and drive was the mantra for many golfers Tuesday on the first day of the Class AA state tournament.
Meanwhile, the boys from both Great Falls schools and the Bozeman girls thrived.
The Rustler boys navigated an arduous 18 holes at Kalispell's Buffalo Hill Golf Course to shoot a team-leading 298, the Bozeman girls got a lift from Laurel Ward, and Billings West's Joey Moore said he battled despite finishing the day with a tournament-leading 5-under 67.
And Missoula Sentinel's Jack Johnston summed up State AA's first round perfectly for those still jockeying to be atop the leaderboard.
"You can’t win it the first day but you can definitely lose it the first day," said Johnston, whose 73 set the Spartan in fifth place, six strokes off Moore's lead. "It’s good to know I’m not completely out of it."
The same could be said of both Sentinel teams, which had the best team scores of three Missoula schools. The Spartan boys, who finished one stroke away from the Top 3 podium in 2016, again sit in fourth place with a 329. They're 13 strokes back of four-time defending champ Billings West. The Golden Bears of Billings are seven strokes behind Great Falls High, which landed in second.
The Sentinel girls are in fifth place with a 392, but they're just four strokes behind Butte in fourth and nine strokes back of Billings Skyview in third. The Spartans are a year removed from a second-place tie, and they had top-20 performances from Emily Garden (fifth with an 85 after the first round) and Lauren Peterson, who's tied for 14th.
"The course was challenging, but I think our team and other teams pulled it out," Peterson said. "I never hit a water hazard, didn't have any troubles with that, but the hills were kind of exhausting, not gonna lie."
Even West's Moore, the boys' defending champion and Class AA state-tournament record holder, said he fought the course. Particularly the cup at Hole 1.
"It was completely on the edge, no grass was in it or anything and it would just not go in," the San Diego State golf recruit said.
Several members in Moore's group hovered around the hole, staring in disbelief at the ball that wouldn't fall. He was forced to tap in.
"(I wasn't) getting any break, and I could do the 'poor me' or I could go out there and fight on," Moore said. "We tried to shadow the ball — we tried everything. It was funny, because everyone said, 'That's gotta go in at some point.'"
They went in more often than not for Moore, though, who leads Kalispell Glacier's A.J. Grande for the head of the leaderboard by two strokes.
Bozeman's Ward helped her Hawks take a 26-stroke lead over Billings West. Ward, listed as the No. 3 golfer on her defending champion team, shot a 76 to finish with the first-day lead.
"Laurel had a great round today that's going to help us as a team, because a couple of us didn't play as well," said Bozeman's Kameryn Basye, who shot a fourth-place 82. "It's nice to know that our 3-4 players can put up a better score than our 1-2 players — that's really helpful as a team."
Individually, Butte's Nevin Larsen took sole possession of eighth place with a 91, and her teammate, Sadie Starcevich is in a tie for 11th with Bozeman's Ellie Jackson and Helena Capital's Kielar Jones. Tied with Sentinel's Peterson in 14th is Kalispell Flathead's Cassidy Lavin and Missoula Hellgate's Sev Armstrong. Big Sky's Alexis Knigh rounded out the top 20 in a 19th-place tie with Billings Skyview's Kyra Hart.
For the boys, Butte's Will Hoagland is in a tie for ninth with Tucker Thomas of CMR, which placed four in the top 10. Glacier's Brayden Aurich survived a tough 13th hole to hold on to 11th place; Flathead's Sam Elliott shot a 79 to forge a three-way tie for 13th. Sentinel's Blake Hasquet (17th) shot an 81 and Hellgate's River Duce (tied for 19th) shot an 82.
Teams will try to break through the gridlock Wednesday, when the final round of the state tournament is scheduled to tee off with a shotgun start at 10 a.m.