By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It’s been three years since a golf team from Princeton Senior High School has participated in the state tournament.
At the present time Tyler Hillyer, Will Hickman, Andrew Wilson, Jared Porter and Steven Parker are in Wheeling, preparing to play 36 holes in the West Virginia Class AAA golf tournament, set to begin this morning at Oglebay Park.
Coached by Jimmy Jones, the Tigers compiled a 78-15 mark during play this season and in last week’s regional Princeton took top honors with Hillyer the medalist, shooting a 74. The fact that he was medalist pales in comparison to his team winning the region and going to states.
“It’s great to win the individual championship, but going as a team just makes it all better,” Hillyer said.
And team is important for the close-knit group and they believe it helps with their success on the links.
“We play golf together all the time,” Hillyer said. “We’re all best friends, so when we travel together it’s nothing new to us. We bond great, so playing with each other is no big deal to us. It’s just like every day in the summer.”
Hickman, a senior, said the fact the Tigers are a veteran squad is one of the reasons for this year’s success.
“Last year we didn’t make it to the states, but we knew this year, with three seniors on our starting four, we knew we had a chance to definitely advance.
“As the season progressed we saw that we were neck-and-neck with Shady Spring throughout and we’d lose to them by one stroke, or beat them by two, it was very close with us. So to come out on top at the end, it was really good for us.”
Hickman said George Washington was considered regional front-runners the Tigers and other schools entered the competition not with their eyes on the prize, but a little lower.
“The crazy thing was everyone thought GW was a shoe-in to go to state and everyone was shooting for second place,” Hickman said.
“On the course we kept talking to some of the players and heard that GW was not playing up to par and maybe we could go, maybe we could snatch that first place. It fell into place at the end and we were able to get it.”
This is not Wilson’s first state tournament. As a member of the PSHS baseball team, he was a sophomore, as was Hickman, on the 2012 state championship team, but this is a first for him on the links.
Unlike his teammates, he is a relative newcomer to the game, joining the school team as a junior.
“I’ve always played since I was little,” Wilson said. “I never got serious into it because in the summers I played baseball. Finally I realized I wanted to play some golf. I watched more on TV and I wanted to get out there and play with all my friends that were playing.”
When asked if there were any similarities between baseball and golf, Wilson said, “They’re both mental and a lot of hard work put in, in both sports.”
Jones, in his second year leading the program, talked about the team.
“This is a big opportunity for the school. These kids are real deserving, they’ve had a great season,” Jones pointed out. “They’ve really worked hard this year and I’m proud of them.”
The coach ran down each of the players and talked about their qualities.
“Each of them has been consistent. Tyler (Hillyer), our No. 1 seed, he’s been consistent all year. His average has pretty much stayed the same. He’s been medalist probably five to six matches that we’ve played in and was medalist at our regional match,” Jones said.
“Jared Porter, he’s been the same way. He’s kept his average low this year. William (Hickman) has to share time with soccer and golf, so we don’t always have him around, but he’s a natural athlete and can come out and not play for a week and still keep his average. That’s a good thing to have.
“Andrew Wilson is consistent with his score too. You can count on him,” Jones noted. “Steven Parker, he’s our sophomore and he’s the youngest on the team. He’s getting experience now, but he’s been with us all year. He stayed in our top four or five. We’re expecting him to move up next year and do well.”
Jones believes the biggest challenge facing the team heading into the state tournament is one of confidence.
“They go out and think they’re playing bad and the scores start coming in and they realize, ‘Hey, we do have a chance here,’” Jones said. “My job is to keep them pumped up and keep those negative thoughts out of their minds because they have some resiliency and have been able to come through when they’ve had to.”
Jones pointed to both the opening match of the season at the Draper (Va.) Classic and the regional tournament as cases where the aforementioned has occurred.
While the Robert Trent Jones course at Oglebay Park is a tough one, Jones believes the Tigers will be fine. The departed Princeton on Sunday and were to play a practice round on Monday before teeing off at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and then again on Wednesday.
“If they stay true to what they’ve done this year, I think we’ll be OK,” Jones commented. “The bright lights don’t seem to get to them. I believe they’ll go out there and play. They’ve done that all year.
“Right now we’re one of the eight best schools in the state in Class AAA. That says something.”
— Contact Bob Redd at