River Hill's Hickey saves best for last as Howard County boys golf Player of Year

In the days leading up to this year’s state golf tournament at the University of Maryland, River Hill senior Kevin Hickey recalls become overcome by a feeling of finality.

His four-year high school career — one that had seen finishes among the top 10 scorers in Howard County each season and four top six finishes in postseason tournaments — was nearing a conclusion he wasn’t quite ready for.

“I remember it just kind of hit me that this was it. This was going to be the last time ever playing golf representing River Hill,” Hickey said. “It’s one of those things that I don’t think you really can prepare yourself for, but it did allow me to set my mind on soaking up that final tournament. It wasn’t so much feeling pressure to play well; it was more wanting to just make the most of my last chance to represent this team and this school as a golfer.”

As it turned out, Hickey’s live-for-the-moment mentality manifested itself into a career-defining finish.

A two-day total of 148 (75-73) earned Hickey a spot in a playoff against Fallston’s William Creery for the 1A/2A individual state championship. Then, on the third sudden-death hole, Hickey delivered a victory-clinching par that secured him his first postseason title.

After years of near misses, Hickey had reached the pinnacle.

“In a weird way, I think this was exactly how it was supposed to happen. All that work and practice he put in, it all kind of built up to that moment,” said River Hill coach Matt Graves. “Every year he just kept putting himself in position, never got discouraged when he came up just short. Then, in his last tournament, it all just kind of came together. And man, if you are going to win one, what a stage to do it on.”

Thanks to his mix of consistency throughout the season as the leader of a Hawks team that made program history as a 1A/2A state finalist, to go along with his individual championship moment, Hickey has been named the 2018 Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year. It’s the first time a River Hill player has ever won the award.

While this was certainly a breakthrough season for the Hawks’ captain, his run to the top didn’t come out of nowhere.

He announced himself as one of the area’s top players almost right away upon entering high school, earning a spot on All-County second team as both a freshman and sophomore. His scoring average both seasons under the modified Stableford scoring system was over 21 points per nine-hole match during the regular season.

It was between his freshman and sophomore seasons that Hickey began working with swing coach Jim Kardash — someone Hickey attributes the majority of his growth as a player to over the last three years.

The big jump in terms of being competitive in the high-stakes tournaments, however, came during the 2017 high school season. After posting a scoring average of 22.7 points during the regular season, he tied for second at the county tournament and then wrapped up his junor year with a tie for sixth in 1A/2A at the state tournament.

That strong play carried over into the offseason and summer tournament schedule, where Hickey played some of the best golf of his career.

“My biggest focus between last year and this year was on driving the ball better in order to put myself in position to score more often. I definitely put myself in play off the tee way more,” Hickey said. “So between that and improving my ability to play under pressure, controlling my emotions … my scores in tournaments were just a lot better.”

In the very first match of the high school regular season this fall, Hickey showcased his improvements by tying a River Hill program record with a round of 28 points (1-under par) against Oakland Mills at Hobbits Glen.

He went on to average a career-high 24.4 points per match, second best among county golfers.

He appeared in position to potentially win his first postseason title at the county championship tournament this fall. However, after he was in a share of the lead late in the back nine, Hickey settled for a 78 — alone in fourth place and two shots out of a playoff for first.

“That one hurt because I felt like I played well enough to win but just let it slip away at the end,” Hickey said. “[It was] definitely a learning experience.”

He again had a near miss at the District V Championships at Crofton Country Club, finishing in a tie for second following a round of 75.

But all those close calls simply set the stage for his crowning achievement at the University of Maryland.

As special as the individual title was, Hickey took just as much pride in his role in helping the Hawks’ team post a two-day total of 655 at the state championships on the way to second place behind Marriotts Ridge. Previously, the River Hill program had never even made the final round as a team at the season-ending tournament.

“The positivity that he brought to the team was invaluable. He had an incredible ability to motivate his teammates and I can say without question that the other three golfers on the team looked at him as their role model,” Graves said. “This group officially put River Hill golf on the map and that doesn’t happen without a leader like Kevin.”

Success for Hickey stretches beyond just the golf course. In the classroom, he has a weighted GPA of 4.6. He also has developed into a standout goalie on the Hawks’ varsity lacrosse team.

“I’ve definitely always been a golfer first. I didn’t really pick up lacrosse until my freshman year but I think it definitely taught me a lot about hard work and determination,” Hickey said. “They are very different sports in almost every way, except for the mental toughness aspect. That ability to be able to hit the reset button and snap back when things don’t go how you want them to, that’s important to being successful in both.

“Mentally I’ve grown so much since I was a freshman and I think that’s probably helped me the most in terms of achieving what I was able to this year.”

Named to the first team All-County squad are:

Justin Allen, Marriotts Ridge, sophomore

Season highlights: The sophomore took the next step this fall toward becoming an integral piece on a Mustangs’ team that put together the program’s sixth straight undefeated season. He averaged 21.7 points a match during the regular season, including a season-high 24 points in a key tri-match sweep of River Hill and Centennial at the Timbers at Troy. He went on to pick up the first postseason victory of his career at the county championship tournament, firing a round of 76 to get himself into a playoff — where he made a birdie on the third extra hole to win. At the District V tournament Allen finished in a tie for ninth (78) and then he wrapped up his season with a two-day total of 161 (79-82) to finish in ninth place in the 1A/2A classification at the state championship tournament.

Kenneth Chaplain, Centennial, senior

Season highlights: Chaplain joined forces with his teammate Ty Sams to give the Eagles two of the top 10 scorers in the county this fall. Chaplain scored a season-high 25 points (2-over par) on two occasions and ended up with an average of 23.1 points a match. He finished in a tie for 10th at the county championship tournament with a round of 86 before regrouping to shoot 76 at the District V Championship and place in a tie for fifth. At the 3A/4A state tournament, his opening-round of 87 missed the cut by four shots.

Isaac Kim, Marriotts Ridge, senior

Season highlights: The top player in terms of scoring average on his team during the regular season, the senior averaged 23.8 points in three matches for the county-champion Mustangs (11-0). His 26 points against Wilde Lake at Hobbits Glen was his season high. He finished in a tie for 10th at the county tournament (86) and in a tie for ninth at the District V Championship tournament (78). Kim then wrapped up the season with a two-day total of 158 (81-77) to finish in eighth place at the 1A/2A state championships.

Akash Marakath, Marriotts Ridge, sophomore

Season highlights: Marakath was the top male finisher for the Mustangs at the 1A/2A state championship tournament, as his two-day total of 156 (78-78) placed him in a tie for fifth and also helped the program to its seventh straight state championship. During the regular season, he averaged 22 points a match and his season high of 24 points came against Howard at Fairway Hills. He opened his postseason with a third place finish at the county championships (77) and then followed that up by placing in a tie for 12th at the District V Championship tournament (79). He was one of only two Howard County male golfers to shoot in the 70s in all four of his postseason rounds.

Branden Nguyen, Atholton, junior

Season highlights: A first-team All-County selection for the third straight season, Nguyen finished his junior campaign with the top scoring average in the county at 25 points a match. His season high score of 27 points (even par) came against Reservoir at Fairway Hills. At the county championship tournament, he finished in fifth place with a round of 79. Then he followed that up with a score of 77 to finish in a tie for seventh at the District V Championship tournament. He finished his season in a tie for 22nd following a two-day total of 164 (83-81) at the 3A/4A state championship tournament.

Caleb Taylor, Glenelg, sophomore

Season highlights: A repeat first-team All-County selection, Taylor was even better in many respects this fall as a sophomore. He was among the top 10 county scorers with an average of 21.8 points per match, including a season-high 26 points against Reservoir. It was in the postseason, though, that he established himself as one of the area’s best. He fired a round of 76 at the county championship tournament to force his way into a playoff, eventually finishing second. Taylor then broke through at the District V Championship tournament, winning by three shots after shooting an even-par score of 72. Finally, he wrapped up his season by placing tied for fifth in the 1A/2A state championship tournament with a two-day total of 156 (76-80).

Reach Brent Kennedy at bkennedy@baltsun.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports

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