EAST MISSOULA — Expectation brings with it pressure and an occasional restless night.
Jaden Dennis had one of those nights Monday. The Missoula Sentinel junior golfer was hungry for his first varsity victory and knew he was just 18 rock-steady holes away from making it happen in the MCPS Invitational.
"This morning I was pretty nervous — it was kind of hard to eat breakfast and I didn't really sleep at all last night, probably got four hours," Dennis said Tuesday after winning by six strokes with a two-day, 2-under score of 70-72-142.
"Once we got out here the adrenaline got going and it didn't bother me at all. First hole I was pretty nervous. Then I settled into my round, making a birdie on my second hole. That really helped things."
Dennis, who adheres to a strict diet in which he avoids sugar, set himself up for medalist honors by shooting 2-under at Larchmont Monday. On Tuesday he battled the course he's been enjoying all summer as a participant in the Canyon River men's league.
He wasn't quite as sharp but was able to overcome two double-bogeys with a steady short game. He finished with a score of 36 on the back nine and followed up with a 36 on the front, scoring birdies on Nos. 6 and 7.
"Men's league, the guys out here are great and you kind of get that banter back and forth, so you learn how to take a little bit of crap from people," the junior joked. "But I think that's really helped me. It's more competitive than just playing for fun."
Joining Dennis on the list of scorers for Sentinel were Joe Opitz at 158, Andrew Hauser 163 and Zach Hangas 174. The Spartans' total of 637 was three strokes better than runner-up Hamilton.
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"Last week we took second (in Great Falls). Bozeman is a really tough team to beat," Dennis noted. "This week we played worse as a team but it seems like we're starting to mesh and pick each other up."
Kalispell Glacier's Tyler Avery rallied to take runner-up medalist honors. He shot a 78 at Larchmont but turned in the low round of the day at Canyon River, finishing with a 78-70-148. Butte's Kaven Noctor had a rough finishing hole and was forced to settle for third at 72-77-149.
Kalispell Flathead junior Marcella Mercer earned girls medalist honors with a score of 80-77-157. Macee Greenwood of Corvallis turned in the best round at Canyon River and earned runner-up medalist honors with an 83-76-159.
Mercer is among the favorites to win the State AA title this season. She finished fifth at state last fall and, considering she was playing in her first tournament of the season this week, she was pleased with the outcome.
"I kind of struggled hitting the ball the first day and I just hit it a lot better today, so my score reflected that," offered the junior, who also won the MCPS Invitational as a freshman. "Putting was a little inconsistent both days. I had some really good putts but had some holes where I had some bad ones, so it evened out."
A day under the sun at Canyon River can be quite the challenge because there is a good amount of distance between many holes. Mercer put the challenge in perspective.
"The actual distance of how long the holes are isn't that bad, but it's more of like green to tee box, having to walk between the holes that takes a long time," she said. "That makes it a long course. It can get tiring for sure. You have to sit down every once in a while."
Butte won the girls team title in dominating fashion. The Bulldogs scored 693, which was 58 strokes better than runner-up Helena.