The North Lincoln’s boys’ golf team fell just a few shots shy of winning its first state championship last year.But with the move up to the 3A classification, Knights coach Mark Lackey said this year’s team will have its work cut out for it.“I hope we can (win a state title),” Lackey said. “But it’s going to be all new, and we’re going to be seeing teams that we haven’t seen in the past.“Anytime you move up in classification, it’s just going to get tougher. That’s what we’re expecting here. We’re going to have to compete even harder in order to be competitive.”North Lincoln finished four strokes behind Newton-Conover (611-615) in last year’s 2A state championships at the Longleaf Golf and Country Club course in Southern Pines.This year, the Knights move up to the 3A level and are now in the North Piedmont 3A/4A, a mixed conference whose boys’ golf teams have had some share of success – Alexander Central, Lake Norman and Mooresville at the 4A level; and North Iredell, South Iredell, Statesville and West Iredell at the 3A level.“A lot of the schools in this new conference have a lot of tradition, a lot of history,” Lackey said. “Every school over there has at some time been very, very good, and can be very, very good again.”It helps that North Lincoln returns several key players from last year’s team, which also won the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A championship.While the Knights lost all-conference player Grant Studdard, whose family moved to Texas over the summer, they have four players back from last year’s team – all-state player Alston Taylor, Nick Steele and Jake Haynes, all juniors; and sophomore Ben Hager.Taylor was North Lincoln’s top scorer in last year’s 2A state championships. His 6-over-par 150 was good for a tie for seventh and earned him all-state honors for the second time. Steele and Hager were also part of the Knights’ state tournament squad.“I’ve played with a bunch of those kids, so the move up (in classification) to 3A won’t be that much different,” said Taylor, who is being looked at by UNC Charlotte, Appalachian State and Furman.“It’s nice having four people back with that kind of experience on our team. It takes some of the pressure off of me to have to play my best each and every time. But I go out there trying to do the best I can, because I know I’ve got a team behind me.”While Lackey said having a core group of experienced players – especially those who have played at the state tournament – returning has its benefits, it doesn’t mean he believes North Lincoln is the favorite to win another conference title.“It helps us, but it doesn’t put us ahead of the other teams,” Lackey said. “It’s a whole new conference, and they’ve been state contenders in the past. It will help us in making the move from 2A to 3A, but it doesn’t give us a leg up.“It’s going to be tougher. We’re going into this season with the attitude that everybody is better than we are, and that we have to prove ourselves. Hopefully, we’re going to be able to do that.”
Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2014
North Lincoln golfers want to repeat success in tougher 3A class
Five to watch
• Jacob Whitman, Mooresville, Jr. – Blue Devils’ top player just missed out on making All-IMECK 4A team last season.
• Alston Taylor, North Lincoln, Jr. – Two-time all-conference golfer finished among top 10 at 2A state tournament the past two years.
• D.J. Thornton, Pine Lake Prep, Sr. – Appalachian State commit qualified for NCHSAA 1A state championships last season.
• Jake Haynes, North Lincoln, Soph. – Cracked starting lineup as a freshman, had strong summer in junior tournaments.
• Cody Carlson, Pine Lake Prep, Jr. – Posted low score in conference championships as a sophomore.
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bill? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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