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Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

Golfers hope to honor fallen teammate with strong finish

Sunday, May 18, 2003

(Photo)
From left are: Matt Hon, Tanner Fritz, E.C. Atchison and Matt Bain. Martin Schaefer will also play at state.
SIKESTON -- Like last year, Sikeston's golf team is headed to the state tournament. But unlike last year, Jonathan Spence won't be making the trip.

After placing 16th at state as a sophomore, Spence was tragically killed in an accident last summer. The Bulldogs felt his loss, both on and off the course.

"We feel the hole where Jonathan's scores were," said Sikeston coach Rick Oetting. "I hate to think how strong of a team we would've had with him in there. He was an outstanding golfer and an even better person."

Over the summer, members of the team were involved in a scholarship fund raiser in Spence's name that raised nearly $7,000.

The team then dedicated the 2003 season to him.

Now, the year will fittingly end at the state tournament, which takes place Monday and Tuesday at the Silo Ridge course in Bolivar.

The Bulldogs are hoping to honor their fallen teammate with a strong finish.

No Sikeston team has ever finished in the top five at state, but Oetting is hoping that's about to change.

"Obviously we want to be state champs," said Oetting. "That would be the ultimate goal. Realistically, we finished sixth last year and were just out of getting a trophy. That is something Sikeston hasn't had yet. I don't see why we can't finish in the top four."

The regular season was somewhat of a roller coaster ride for Sikeston, filled with several highs and lows. The Bulldogs were able to produce when it counted though, placing second in the district at Bent Creek, finishing just one stroke behind the defending state champions.

The Bulldogs followed that up with another strong showing at Dalhousie, taking fourth place in the SEMO Conference Tournament.

"I couldn't think of a better scenario to prepare us for state than playing Dalhousie and Bent Creek back to back," said Oetting.

Without Spence, just three Sikeston players return with state experience: E.C. Atchison, Tanner Fritz and Matt Bain.

Atchison is the best golfer on the team, carrying an average score of 36.9 over nine holes.

"He has played golf since he was knee-high," explained Oetting. "He has grown up around the game. Obviously, he has been a tremendous asset to this team. A sophomore shooting even-par and under-par is something to see."

Atchison's teammates labeled him "the phenom" last year during his impressive freshman season. Oetting is hoping another year of experience will produce phenomenal results for Atchison this week.

"We're hoping he can be one of the top medalists this year," said Oetting. "I think he's got the demeanor on the course to make that happen."

Fritz is one of two seniors on the team and is Sikeston's leader. He has dropped his average down to 39.1.

"About halfway through the year last season, he started to pick up a leadership role," said Oetting. "He's really done a good job of filling in this year for Brandon DeWitt, who was our leader last year."

Bain, a junior, is the No. 3 man on the team with an average of 40.9.

"Matt really felt the most loss with Jonathan Spence," said Oetting. "He's really been a supporter for Mrs. Spence, and lets her know what the team has been up to. He started out a little shaky this year, but he has pulled it together. The more challenge there has been, the harder he has worked at it."

Sophomore Martin Schaefer enters the state tournament as Sikeston's fourth-best golfer with an average of 41.4. Schaefer is best known for a recent practice round, where he nailed a hole-in-one on a par 4.

"He showed some promise last year as a freshman," said Oetting. "This year, he has really played steady. He has a relaxed swing that delivers a lot of power. His overall game is pretty good."

Matt Hon is the other senior on the team. Being the sixth man last year, he didn't get the opportunity to compete at state. His average is currently 42.1, making him the No. 5 player on the team.

"Matt is our steady, dependable golfer," said Oetting. "He's not going to blow the lowest scores in there, but he's usually steady and has the scores where we need them if somebody else falters. He has done a real good job all year."

Oetting sees similarities between this year's team and last year's group at this same point.

"We're taking in about the same strength," said Oetting. "We've got a little more firepower this year, with our top four able to break low scores. And our number five man this year has a lot more experience going into it."

The Silo Ridge course will be new to Sikeston, considering last year's state tournament was played at Rivercut in Springfield.

"I really haven't had the chance to visit (Silo Ridge) yet," said Oetting. "I don't think it's going to be as hilly, so the legs might last a little longer. This one is a little better guarded and has a few more hazards along the way."

The key at state is consistency. Last year the Bulldogs had a poor first round, finishing in 13th place. On the second day, Sikeston came back to fire the second best round of the tournament, moving up to sixth place, just one stroke shy of fifth.

"If we post good scores and it just isn't good enough to place, we will live with it," said Oetting. "It's when you know you could've played better that bothers you."

In Oetting's four years as head coach, Sikeston has qualified for state as a team three times.