The TSSAA golf season is the first of the high school sports to kick off in the new school year and the first to hold its post-season tournaments. The Oak Ridge High School Wildcats kick off the 2022 campaign Friday, July 29 in the 5-Star Preps Tournament at Three Ridges Golf Course. They wrap up their season with the Region 2 Tournament on Monday, September 26 at Green Meadow and the State Tournament at Sevierville Golf Club.
Scott Hinton, longtime athletic director of the Robertsville Middle School Rams, takes the reins of the ORHS golf team this year after a long career as a women’s basketball and DA coach. It seeks to increase the visibility and competitiveness of the program.
Hinton worked with the Lady Rams basketball team as an assistant under David Scott, then served as head coach from 2006 to 2013, coaching RMS big names such as Adrian Etheridge, Jennifer Hitchcock, Jessica Palmer, Savanna Nyholm, Whitney Mitchell, Kendra Holmes, Destiny Kassner, Courtney Ellison and Mykia Dowdell during their college basketball careers. His roots in athletics run very deep. Hinton credits former ORHS basketball coach Chuck Carringer and multifaceted ORHS and RMS coach David Scott with helping shape his coaching philosophy, offering that they “thought about more than just being a coach, but about being a good husband, father and role model. Hinton also praises his childhood friend Matt McMahon, head basketball coach at LSU, who he says “has always been a role model for me in how to do things both in and out of sport. I am very grateful to Matt and his friendship, as well as his guidance and encouragement over the years.
Hinton will bring these values to the team as he begins to create a long-term program for ORHS Golf.
A lifelong golfer, Hinton describes high school golf as “a unique team sport” in that scoring relies on four or five boys and two or three girls to produce a low team score similar to cross country. . The team held tryouts at the end of last school year, so they were able to practice four times before the TSSAA’s annual downtime, and Hinton expresses his optimism and ambition when talking about the coming season.
Top returner Jack Bentz, a sophomore, appeared in the Region 2 tournament last year as a rookie and had a terrific spring and summer season as a junior golfer, finishing second to a shot in a Sneds Tour 2-day Open at Tellico Village on Memorial Day Weekend. Bentz also qualified and competed in the prestigious Tennessee State Golf Association Junior Amateur from June 28-30, posting a very respectable score of 7 over par in the 54-hole event and finishing tied for 28th on 72 attendees in total. A clear No. 1, Bentz will be looking to sit near the top of the leader board.
Coach Hinton’s son Hunter, an incoming freshman, brings good experience to the team as a junior golfer in numerous state events. He also completed a successful college career, where he was a medalist and individual champion in the 2021 ETMSGA State Tournament as a seventh grader. He shot 73 in his last college tournament, winning the ETYGA individual title in eighth grade. He won the Sneds Tour 2-day 14-u open division at Egwani Farms in late June and will be a key addition to the squad.
Seniors Joey Weston and Eli Underwood will be key contributors and bring a ton of experience. Both seniors qualified for the region’s tournament as sophomores when Oak Ridge was in District 3, so they bring some playoff experience. Hinton praises Weston as a good ball striker who hits long and straight. He has the ability to consistently shoot in the top 30 in 9-hole matches. At the start of the season, he mentioned he wanted to be more consistent with his short game and that’s something he’s focused on.
“Elder Statesman” Underwood has been on the team since freshman year and can hit the ball as far as anyone on the team. When he understands where he is going and tightens up his little game, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Rounding out Oak Ridge’s top players is incoming rookie Lewis Niad, who has upped his game considerably and will provide great depth.
The women’s team will be very “green” this year, built around learning the high school game, according to Hinton. Senior Haleigh West will lead the team, and sophomore Kiaya Barnes and freshmen transfers Kaedyn Hollander round out the small roster. Hinton says this young and inexperienced group is likely to improve quickly.
Hinton has put together a busy schedule for its golfers this year. All home games will be held at Oak Ridge Country Club, and the team will visit Tennessee National, Three Ridges, Green Meadow and Egwani Farms, where the ‘Cats co-host the annual Cats and Dogs Tournament with Bearden High School. The Wildcats take on outstanding teams defending Division 1-A State Champion Kingston, defending State Division II-A Champion Christian Academy of Knoxville (CAK), as well as District 4 foes Maryville, Bearden, Hardin Valley, Karns, William Blount and South Doyle. .
The main objective for this season is to do the Regional Tournament as a team. Oak Ridge High School has never had a qualified team (the individuals, but not the team) for the area tournament, so this has been the team’s goal since day one. District 4 is very tough with Maryville, Bearden, Farragut, Hardin Valley and Oak Ridge all vying for the coveted top 3 spots in the District Tournament to qualify for the region, so it won’t be easy. Hinton also says he “feels good” to have at least one player in the state tournament as an individual, which would be a huge accomplishment.
The Wildcats kick off their 2022 season July 29-30 at the 5-Star Preps Tournament at Three Ridges Golf Course in North Knoxville.
Allen Etheridge is an English teacher and assistant director of sports information and athletics at Oak Ridge High School.