San Lorenzo Valley High boys’ golf team, (from left) head coach Luke Dahlen, Kennan Buntz, Connor Scarborough, James Dahlen, Wyatt McCabe, Luke Fontinell, Mason Atkinson and assistant coach Rob Buntz, are on the cusp of capturing the program’s first-ever Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League crown this season. (contributed)

Never say never.

That has been the mantra in 2024 for the San Lorenzo Valley High boys’ golf team, which was on the verge Tuesday of capturing the program’s first-ever Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League championship.

The Cougars got the job done following a 179-199 win against Scotts Valley High at Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club on April 16.

Leading SLV on its historical run was junior James Dahlen, the team’s No. 1 golfer for the past two seasons. He shot an even par 31 to share medalist honors with fellow teammate Keenan Buntz en route to victory over the Falcons.

“It would just be awesome for us because SLV has never won league for boys’ golf, ever,” said Dahlen prior to Tuesday’s match. “My whole high school career, Aptos has never lost and we beat them twice. It’s just really cool and awesome that we can do that.”

The Cougars improved to an 8-0 record in SCCAL play and clinched the regular season title with two matches remaining before the end-of-season league tournament April 30. A pair of big-time wins over powerhouse Aptos definitely helped get them over the hump.

The numbers have been impressive for Dahlen this season. He earned a junior membership at Pasatiempo Golf Course earlier this year, a program the Pasatiempo Men’s Club provides for local high school athletes.

Dahlen shot a 2-over-par 33 in a 176-203 victory over Soquel High at Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club on April 10. Prior to that, the Cougars’ star golfer shot a 35 to help SLV beat Aptos High, 181-186.

Dahlen shot an even par 35 at Seascape Golf Club to help the Cougars to a massive 216-217 upset win against Aptos in the teams’ first meeting March 14.

He followed up with another strong performance by shooting 1-over par 36, including a personal-best four birdies in a 211-260 win over Soquel on the front nine at Pasatiempo on March 19.

“It’s really exciting that we’re doing this. I think we have a really good group of kids,” Dahlen said. “Our whole team is pretty strong. Everyone cares a lot and really wants to win.”

Others in the Cougars pack include junior Keenan Buntz and senior Wyatt McCabe, who has been SLV’s biggest surprise this season. McCabe picked up a golf for the first time ever this year, while Buntz has been a solid No. 2 for SLV.

Buntz last week had two of his best outings at Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club against Aptos and Soquel. He shot an even par for a personal-best 31 to earn medalist honors in a victory over Soquel, and 2-over-par 33 in the Cougars’ most recent win over Aptos.

“Keenan’s playing some of the best golf I’ve ever seen him play,” SLV head coach Luke Dahlen said.

Luke Fontinell has really taken a huge step forward this season and is contributing in a major way, while seniors Connor Scarborough and Mason Atkinson are both currently playing their best golf.

“I’m really proud of these boys,” said Luke Dahlen, in an email. “They’re not only playing at a high level right now but they are playing as a team [and] really seem to be having fun out there. It’s really cool to watch.”

Luke Dahlen returns for his second year at the helm with the Cougars, who placed third in the SCCAL standings in 2023 behind Harbor High and defending league-champion Aptos, which finished with a 10-0 record in league play.

Dahlen said the goal going into the 2024 campaign was to have a chance at second place. That would earn SLV one of two automatic qualifying playoff berths for the Central Coast Section championships.

Prior to the season, the Cougars showed up to the golf course earlier than most of the teams in the league. They practiced at DeLaveaga Golf Course in Santa Cruz to practice at the putting green, chipping green and hitting range.

“All the kids want to hit driver, driver, driver, even though we don’t even hit driver on most of the holes that we play,” Luke Dahlen said. “I just got a really great bunch of kids, they’re committed, they’re listening and they’re putting in the time on the stuff that’s not fun, the monotonous stuff of three-foot putts.”

Luke Dahlen emphasized how matches are typically won 100 yards and in. It’s the reason why they worked on the short game in the offseason.

“We might get beat off the tee this year, but we’ve been beating all the other teams at 100 yards and in,” he said.

James Dahlen said the difference between them and other teams in the league is that the Cougars spend a lot of time on the range, putting green and chipping green.

“Other teams kind of decide just to play every round, and I think that’s been very beneficial for us because a lot of the time is spent around the green,” he said.

Luke Dahlen mentioned how beating Aptos in the teams’ first match was the turning point for them moving forward.

“After that the kids started to really believe in themselves,” he said. “If you build confidence, that’s everything.”

Luke Dahlen mentioned how they also have an incredible group of coaches in Rob Buntz, Phil D’Andrea, John Atkinson, Andy Brewer and local PGA teaching professional Jerry Thormann, who promised the team a steak dinner if SLV were to win a league crown.

Thormann has strong ties with the school. His son, Patrick, was the top golfer for the Cougars in the mid ’90s.

Luke Dahlen said winning the SCCAL title isn’t so much for him personally, but it’s for his son, the players, coaches and those who have been part of the program.

“It’s pretty special, honestly, to be able to do that for all those past golfers, and then to have Jerry Thormann as one of the coaches this year,” Luke Dahlen said. “[Thormann] said ‘If we get one of those patches, all I want is one of those SCCAL patches’ because it just means a lot for our smaller community.”

Get the steak knife and fork ready because the Cougars are bringing home that league title to Felton this season.

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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