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Gators not ready to see streak end

For the Green Valley boys golf team, advancing to the Class 4A state tournament has become a rite of spring.

The Gators have qualified for the state tournament every year since the program’s inception 19 years ago.

Junior Hayden Cottle doesn’t want that streak to end.

“We’re always getting ready to play further on,” Cottle said. “We always look forward to state, because we’ve never not made it, so we’re always ready to be there. But this year, I think, (qualifying) will be one of our biggest challenges because Foothill got so good.”

Green Valley enters the season with designs on its 20th consecutive trip to state. But the Gators will face a crowded Southeast League field that includes state favorite Coronado and a Foothill squad that boasts defending Sunrise Region individual champion Taylor Montgomery and three returning state qualifiers. Only the top two teams in the Sunrise Region advance to state.

The Cougars have a deep lineup that includes defending state champ A.J. McInerney, who has committed to UNLV, and 2008 champ Tad Darland, a San Diego State signee. Coronado’s top six golfers average in the 70s for 18 holes.

“We know it’s going to be a challenge, and we know we’re going to have to play well to qualify,” Green Valley coach Greg Murphy said. “But we have to take care of our own team. We can’t worry about what anybody else is doing, but just control what we can control. If we continue to improve and to work hard, we can do it.”

Cottle is one of four juniors on a nine-player squad with no seniors. Last year’s Gators team leaned heavily on three seniors, including top golfer Ryan Green, who finished tied for 15th at state with a two-day 155.

Cottle was one of the younger golfers in last year’s tournament but shot a two-day 169 as a sophomore. Junior Cody Smith posted a 187.

Murphy said his team is deeper than in previous years, but he knows the younger golfers will need to rise to the occasion — and that they are capable of doing so.

“This year, we’ve got five guys who can be the medalist any day,” Murphy said. “I’ll take the five over one (standout golfer), knowing that we have that depth and can count on five guys.

The Gators also have another Green as a potential wild card: Ryan’s younger brother, freshman Jordan Green, brings high expectations into his first year of prep golf.

“He’s been around our program for the past four years while Ryan was here,” Murphy said. “He’s been a part of the program without playing every day; this is just the first year that he’s eligible to play. We expect big things from him, and he expects big things from himself, which is nice.

“Jordan’s a competitor; that’s his strength. He’s going to grind it out and compete. And he’s got some game to compete.”

Cottle’s work ethic will be key to the team’s leadership, Murphy added.

“Hayden’s a competitor. He has a work ethic that continues to work and work and work to figure things out,” the seventh-year head coach said. “He’s going to continue to get better each week, not rest on any one good round. He’ll continue to work at it to get even better.”

With the talent spread out among the three teams, the regional meet could feature several rounds of fireworks for a streak that no Gator wants to see broken.

“I think what will happen is we’ll go and it will be a total shootout,” Cottle said. “We’ll play our game, and they’ll play their game, totally different. But in the end, it’s whoever deserves it the most.”

Contact reporter Sean Walker at swalker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0430.

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