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Hilltoppers' golfers taking aim at another deep run

Douglas Fritz • Updated Aug 10, 2017 at 9:28 PM

Science Hill came agonizingly close to a state golf championship in 2016, and early season momentum suggests the Hilltoppers would like another shot.

In the 17-team Morristown Invitational on Tuesday, Science Hill won by two strokes. The Hilltoppers previously captured the 10-team Oak Ridge Invitational. And both of those victories came without top player Jackson Skeen, who was involved with AJGA tournaments.

“I was really pleased to win those tournaments without Jackson,” said Hilltoppers’ head coach Kevin Vannoy. “If you look at the teams in Morristown, that’s everybody in the region; the teams you have to beat to get to WillowBrook for the state tournament.”

Science Hill certainly wants that trip. The Hilltoppers shot at two-day total of 583 in last year’s Class AAA event. Knox Halls matched that total, and then beat the Hilltoppers in a tense two-hole playoff.

“We’ve been to the state tournament two years in a row, and I think success breeds success,” said Vannoy. “But as every coach says, we’ve got to take one step at a time. We are kind of young. We will have to mature over the year.”

Skeen should be a strong No. 1 despite being just a sophomore. He’s already getting looks from Purdue, Tennessee and others — even though they can’t officially offer him yet.

“He has a bright future,” said Vannoy.

Junior Sean Anderson gives the Hilltoppers more strength at the top. He has been to the state tournament twice. Junior Gavin Nickels is also a threat. He carded a 74 on Day 2 of the state last year.

“Gavin showed up big at the state,” said Vannoy. “Those three guys — Gavin, Sean and Jackson — have to be the anchors for us.”

Also in the mix are sophomores Tarun Hoskere and Carter Counts.

“(Tarun) has really improved tremendously,” said Vannoy.

Rounding out the roster are Zach Steward (Jr.), Hendrix Price (Jr.), Ross Boehling (So.), Jacob Oakley (So.), Caleb Gonzalez (Jr.) and Cayd Pope (Jr.).

In the Oak Ridge tourney, Anderson had a 72 while Nickels and Hoskere each turned in a 73. At Morristown, Hoskere finished third with a 72 while Counts finished with a 76.

The next major event on Science Hill’s schedule is the Tournament of Champions at Crossville on Aug. 25-26. Then the Hilltoppers play in the Hendersonville Invitational on Aug. 28.

If Science Hill makes it back to the state tournament, it’s very possible Halls could be in the way once again.

“They lost one senior, but they’ve got four or five players still,” said Vannoy.

On the girls’ side, Vannoy said the Lady Hilltoppers will lean on junior Lillian Qin. She tied for 10th place in the Morristown tournament, and qualified for the state as a freshman.

“That’s a goal for her, to see if she can get back,” said Vannoy.

Also playing for the girls is freshman Grace Smith.

“We only have two girls, which is kind of disappointing, but our expectations are no less,” said Vannoy. “There’s not a lot of margin for error.”

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