Mike Powers| News-Bulletin photos
Belen’s Grady Cox, left, leads the Eagles Monday and Tuesday into the 4A State Golf Championship as he seeks a third individual title.

With the start of the high school state golf championships just a pitching wedge away, the Belen boys and girls expect to make headlines, while Los Lunas looks to surprise the field on the boys’ side.  

Santa Ana Pueblo hosts the two-day, 36-hole tournaments starting Monday, with the 5A Championships at Twin Warriors Golf Club and 4A golfers competing at Santa Ana Golf Club.  

Two-time 4A girls’ individual champion Rylee Salome of Belen is a strong favorite to make it three straight titles. 

Belen’s Rylee Salome is favored to win a third individual title starting Monday at the 4A State Golf Championship.

“She’s taken it up to another level,” says BHS coach Donald Marquez of his star junior. “She hasn’t lost in any high school tournament this year. Not only is she talented she’s got that experience over the last few years.”  

At the 4A State Preview 18-hole tournament, Salome won by six shots on the same course the state meet will be held.  

“I feel like I’ve been swinging it pretty good,” said Salome, who has had success with a new set of clubs. “I can work the ball a little bit more, which is nice, with a little bit better distance control.”   

This year’s Eagle squad is not just a one woman show after the Eagles finished third out of 10 teams at the state preview, behind Kirtland Central and St. Pius.  

“We’ll definitely be in the top three with a chance to win it,” Marquez believes.  

Avery Latter is a solid No. 2 behind Salome, with newcomers Gianna Nilvo, Jadarose Wright and Samantha Wells adding depth.   

Belen’s Grady Cox had his dream of winning four state boys championships dashed by one stroke last year. Cox, a senior, has taken that disappointment in stride.  

“That’s just golf. I’m not anymore motivated than in past years,” said Cox, who has committed to play at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee.  “I’m thankful for the time I’ve been able to be here and the championships I’ve been able to win.”  

Signing with APSU was a relief for Cox, who is “looking forward to state and just trying to soak it in before I graduate.”  

Marquez sizes up Cox’s consistency in simple terms.  

“Grady is just Grady. You can get him one day but to get him two in a row is going to be really tough.”  

BHS did not qualify as a boys’ team.   

Los Lunas and Valencia, both coached by Robb Sexsmith, did not have any girls come out for either team this year, but the LLHS boys have noticeably improved.  

“The boys are really pushing each other. Scores are getting lower. We’re having fun,” Sexsmith said.    

The coach’s son, also named Robb, is the Tigers top returning player.  

“We’re doing a lot better,” Sexsmith, a senior said.  “We picked up a new guy, Jonah Utash, and he’s really good.”  

Utash is an LLHS freshman, who is also excelling this spring on the baseball field for the Tigers, who play this weekend in the 5A best-of-three playoff series at Volcano Vista.   

Utash came in ninth at the 5A state preview, one stroke behind Sexsmith, who fired a 77, tied for sixth.  

As a team, Los Lunas tied for third, with eighth-grader Tyler Stephenson shooting an 82 to finish 13th individually.  

Valencia has only three players on the boys’ team, but coach Sexsmith says, “We’re trying to build at Valencia,” with quite a few middle school students expressing an interest in playing next season. 

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.