MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — Walters State's golf team will return to the scene of the program's national championship victory in the 2014 season when they travel to Plymouth, Indiana, this week for the 2019 NJCAA Division II Golf Championships.
The tournament will be contested at Swan Lake Golf Resort on the Black Course, a challenging trek that covers 7,131 yards on a par 72 layout. The Senators will be one of 18 teams competing for a national championship, and they enter the end of the season event ranked ninth in the nation in the NJCAA Division II poll sponsored by Golfstat.
Walters State has cobbled together a fine season, finishing in the top-10 in all nine tournaments so far while also tallying top-seven finishes in eight of those events. The Senators also have a pair of wins on their worksheet, having won their own tournament in the fall, the Walters State Senators Classic at The Country Club, and most recently the NJCAA District J Championship in Braselton, Georgia, to qualify for the national tournament.
Leading the Senators back to the nationals are head coach Bill Gardner and assistant coach Brad Hawkins. Gardner has been the golf coach at Walters State since 1988, and this will be his 29th trip to the national tournament. Hawkins was a member of the 2014 national championship team, and he was a two-time NJCAA First Team All-American.
Gardner and Hawkins will turn to five members of the WSCC team to pursue another national title this week. Participating for the Senators will be Alex Hodge, a graduate of Halls High School in Knoxville, Andrew Linkous, a graduate of Cleveland High School, Dane Rheinecker, a graduate of Knoxville Central High School, Hunter Blanken, a graduate of Morristown East High School, and Stephen Owen, a graduate of Cherokee High School in Rogersville.
Hodge enters the tournament as the No. 15 ranked golfer in NJCAA Division II, having put together a scoring average of 73.79 this season. He has played in all nine tournaments this season, finishing in the top 10 six times, including a win at the Tusculum Invitational this spring. He is coming off a fifth place showing at the District J Championship.
Linkous put together a scoring average of 76.53 on the year, garnering him a ranking of 67th in the country. He is coming off his best finish of the season, a fourth place performance at the District J Championship. That was one of his two top-five finishes this season, the other coming in the Walters State Senators Classic in October.
Rheinecker enters the tournament ranked 77th with a scoring average of 77.12 on the year. He has two top-six finishes, most recently at the District J Championship with a sixth place showing. He tied for fourth with Linkous at the Walters State Senators Classic.
Blanken ranks 102nd in the country with a 78.05 scoring average. He has four top-11 finishes this season, including a third place finish at the Tusculum Invitational for his best finish of the year. He comes into this week after finishing 16th at the District J Championship.
Owen ranks 115th in the nation with a scoring mark of 78.62 per round. He had played in just five tournaments this season with a best of 16th place in the first tournament of the year before taking him a tie for seventh at the District J Championship.
Walters State has a team scoring average of 303 this season, good enough for ninth in the nation. The national tournament will begin on Tuesday, May 21, and will run through Friday, May 24.