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The town of Challis is small and remote, located some 60 miles from any neighboring community in the central part of Idaho.

It's the biggest city in Custer County, but that isn't saying much with 1,000 residents.

Yet, hidden behind its endless greens and hills lives teenager Kelli Ann Stand, one of the top college-bound golfers in the country.

For starters, Strand never lost a single high school match while representing Challis High School, winning three Class 2A championships.

The three-time Idaho Golf Association Junior Amateur winner has signed with Nebraska.

"She’s very humble," said uncle and Challis golf coach Eric Strand. "But trust me, there’s a fire burning inside her that is second to none."

A fire that first ignited a decade earlier.

It was at a five-hole IGA tournament in American Falls, some 200 miles away from Challis.

"I remember my mom was with me and I just told her how much I loved it and I wanted to keep playing," Kelli Ann said. "She knew right from then that I would keep playing."

Kelli Ann ended up winning that tournament, along with countless others in the following years. But it received little to no attention.

"I’ve always kind of felt under the radar a little bit just coming from a small town and not a lot of people knowing me because of where I’m from," Kelli Ann said.

It took an improbable run on the state’s biggest stage to finally get the recognition she deserved.

At 14, and in her first go-around, Kelli Ann was the youngest competitor in the field of the 2018 Idaho Women’s State Amateur at Shadow Valley Golf Course in Garden City. The annual event is not only open to top junior golfers, but collegiate players who haven’t turned professional.

Kelli Ann, who wasn’t even in high school yet, led by three strokes after the first round. She ended up placing second behind then-Oregon State University golfer Haley Nist, who finished up at the University of Colorado.

"I was definitely a little nervous because I was pretty young and I hadn’t played in a lot of that type of competition," Kelli Ann said. "But it was a really good experience for me in building confidence and getting used to that kind of pressure and everything."

A budding name, now all Kelli Ann needed was a high school squad to join - which has been more challenging than you might think.

With only a nine-hole course in Challis, there had never been much interest at the local high school to field a team.

Some, such as Lane Strand - Kelli Ann's older brother - joined the co-op team at nearby Mackay.

Kelli Ann could have followed that path as well, but she wanted to be part of a team at her own school. So she and her uncle started a program in 2019, and began recruiting players.

Eric’s now fiancée and then-girls basketball coach Kari Smith, who was a member of the 1997 Northwest Nazarene University women’s basketball national championship team, helped convince her own players to come out. A pair of rodeo girls were also a part of that inaugural group. None of them had their own equipment, much less had ever seen a golf ball before.

But it evolved. And this past spring, Challis brought home a fourth-place state trophy to go along with the district title from the year prior.

"We haven’t won a lot at our high school (no team state titles since 2012)," Kelli Ann said. "So it was just really cool to bring back those trophies."

Kelli Ann doesn’t have any shortage of hardware herself, including a win that marked a big step in program - and family - history.

As a ninth grader, she became the first girl at Challis to win a state title, capturing the Class 2A crown with a 1-under-par 149 total at Rivers Edge Golf Course in Burley.

Equal to the task was Lane, who as a junior captured the 2A boys title, becoming the first in school history to accomplish that feat.

Lane was also a three-time district champion and likely would have repeated had the COVID-19 pandemic not canceled his senior season (2020). He is now a standout at Northwest Nazarene Uniersity where he was the Great Northwest Athletic Conference freshman of the year and an all-GNAC second-team selection this past year.

"He has been really important because he was the one who kind of got me into golf," Kelli Ann said. "There’s not a lot of junior golfers here in Challis, so it’s fun to be able to play with him and he pushes me and I push him. He’s really good at seeing things and knows what I need to do differently to improve."

The siblings are also pretty competitive with one another. And not just in golf:

Board games.

Corn hole.


It doesn’t matter.

But neither Kelli Ann or Eric wouldn’t quite say who the better golfer is.

"If they both go out and tee it off tomorrow and the NNU boys come in and say, 'Oh yeah, Lane is going to kill her' - I wouldn’t bet your house on the deal," Eric said with a chuckle. 

It helps that she drives the ball 285 yards pretty consistently, too.

However, Kelli Ann may have bragging rights, not only on him, but most everyone else for that matter.

Her resume to date includes being:

* A three-time 2A state champion, including shattering her own all-classification record with a 15-under 129 total in May at Kuna’s Falcon Crest.

* The first-ever three-time John Dropping Junior Championship winner, she eclipsed the likes of two-time winner, Vallivue’s Gabby Lemieux, who just competed in the U.S. Women’s Open earlier this month.

* A three-time IMG Junior World qualifier, she was also named the 2021 IGA women's player of the year.

* And last year, she returned to win the same Idaho Women’s State Amateur that eluded her earlier, just to name a few.

But you won’t hear Kelli Ann gloat about any of it. It's quite the opposite, in fct.

This was particularly evident in April at an U.S. Women’s Open qualifier up in Kent, Washington. Kelli Ann missed getting into the national open by two strokes.

She and Eric had a high school tournament in Salmon, Idaho the next morning. On the 11-hour car ride back, Kelli Ann and Eric shared an emotional moment together.

"She didn’t play well," Eric said. "So there’s times where she gets tears in her eyes. Despite how it looks most of the time, it’s not easy. I’m not the nicest guy on the planet. But she’s never once ever gave up and she pushes me just as much as I’ve ever pushed her. And that’s a fact."

And on just a few hours of sleep and filled with disappointment and regret from just hours before , Kelli Ann turned around and cruised to another victory.

"She hates losing more than she likes winning," Eric said. "When she wins something, you take the picture, she smiles and then she gives the trophy away to her mom or dad or somebody and it collects dust at somebody’s house. But when Kelli Ann loses, that’s when the fire comes out. That’s when all of a sudden it’s like, 'OK, fine, I’m gonna work even harder.'"

She wakes early to meet with Eric in his parent’s garage at 6 a.m. They set up a makeshift driving net with a mat to hit golf balls in the middle of those long Challis winters.

And during the spring, she has been known to practice up to seven hours a day on weekdays - and longer on weekends. She details all of those sessions in a crumpled up notebook that has seen better days.

Her work ethic isn’t just limited to the fairways and greens, though.

Kelli Ann was the valedictorian of her class, which had just 14 kids and one other girl. She did so by taking a full seven-course load, most of which were dual-credit college courses.

"I’ve said this to a lot of people, Kelli Ann is very structured. Everything about her is very scheduled," Eric said. "Kelli’s got one of those brains where she’s always learning and everything to her is real visual."

Before heading off to Nebraska, Kelli Ann has a busy summer ahead, starting with a U.S. Junior Girls qualifier at Redhawk in Nampa. Then, she will try and defend her Women’s State Amateur (July 7-9) in Idaho Falls before competing in the Junior World Championships (July 12-15) at Torrey Pines in San Diego.

This all from the first NCAA Division I golf signee from Challis. Not exactly the place you'd expect to find a generational talent.

"I’ve had so many people around here that have gotten me this far," Kelli Ann said. "I can’t thank everybody enough, the community, my teachers, my family, just everyone has helped me get to this point.

"I’m proud to be from Challis and I’ll always call myself a Challis girl no matter where I go."