November 15, 2006 - A year ago, the members of the Catalina Foothills High School girls golf team sat outside the pro-shop at Dell Urich golf course, crying and consoling each other after a gut-wrenching 1-stroke loss in the Class 4A Division I state tournament.
One year later, that same bench was the scene for a different kind of post-tourney gathering: victory photos.
The Falcons held off a surging Cave Creek Cactus Shadows High School on Nov. 7 to claim its second state title in three years. A one-stroke differential didn't help the Falcons win but a single stoke did play a poignant role for Foothills, this time for the positive.
With a two-day total of 602, Foothills set the Southern Arizona state tournament scoring record by one stroke. Canyon Del Oro High School - featuring future LPGA player Marisa Baena - shot a 603 in the 1998 state tournament also at Del Urich.
Esther Choe and Cactus Shadows gave the Falcons a scare but fell five strokes short of the title. Choe, the Arizona Junior Golf Association's Player of the Year, won the state individual title with two-day score of 129.
Led by senior Codie Wintrode, who shot 145 and tied for third, Foothills finished with all five of its golfers in the top-11.
"I waited four years to play at state and I got my chance this year and it was a blast," said Wintrode, whose sister Courtney was a member of Foothills last state title. "It was amazing."
Sage Suffecool's 15-foot putt on 18 didn't seal the win for the Falcons but it did help to alleviate the mounting tension in the gallery. The Falcons built a comfortable lead after day one, retiring to the clubhouse with a 17-stroke lead. But that advantage slowly began to evaporate on day two as Choe led the charge with four straight birdies to close her round.
"It felt like it took two minutes to get in the hole," said Suffecool of her final putt.
Suffecool - who is contemplating attending Gonzaga University on a full golf scholarship - finished the tourney shooting 152, tied for 7th.
"I don't think it's really set in yet because we wanted it so bad," said Suffecool.
Also logging top-11 scores were Laura McHugh (151, 6th place), Jesse Bluestein (154, 9th) and Sydney Saito (163, 11th).
What makes the Falcons' three-year-run remarkable is the players that led them to the top of the state. After each of the last two years, Foothills has lost its top two players to graduation or transfer. Instead of wilting, the program has simply reloaded. Next year will be a challenge for head coach Mark Polich, who returns a young squad that will feature just two returning players.
Polich is confident his team can rebound next year for a shot at repeating. After all, he just did it.
"At the beginning of the year I really didn't know how well we could do with losing our top two players, there was definitely some uncertainty," said Polich. "The goal was to win but I honestly didn't know how realistic it was."
The result was staggering as Foothills lost only four times all year-twice to Xavier High School and twice to Desert Mountain High School, the Class 5A Division I and Division II state champions respectively.
In the four weeks leading up to the state tournament, Polich's team only worked on chipping and putting in anticipation of its title run. The result was a squad that obliterated its previous state tournament performance of 2004.
"This team was way better than that team," said Polich. "That team (2004) finished 70-over par for the tournament. This team finished 42-over par for the tournament. That's a big difference."