Vannelli. St. Thomas Academy. Powerhouse.
They are synonymous when it comes to hockey.
Now it’s time to add golf to the fray.
The Cadets, ranked No. 5 in Class 3A by the coaches association, are looking to make their fourth consecutive state tournament appearance.
“I put a lot of demands on kids when they play sports,” said Cadets coach Greg Vannelli, in his sixth season guiding the golf program, eight years fewer than he has directed the hockey program. “I have high expectations, and set the bar high for them. They seem to gravitate towards that.”
St. Thomas Academy returned five players from last year’s squad that finished fourth in the state tournament. It has improved one spot each of the past three years — sixth in 2014 and fifth in 2015 — in the final event.
“Golf is the No. 1 sport for five of our top six players,” Vannelli said. “That has really helped us.”
In their three biggest tournaments of the year, the Cadets have finished in the top five. They were the runners-up in the Stillwater Invitational, fourth in the Tri-State and fifth at Edina.
“The biggest difference for us this year is our depth,” Vannelli said.
His top six golfers all have been the medalist in at least one meet.
Vannelli’s squad is young but experienced. Its top six golfers are a junior, four sophomores and a freshman.
“The thing is in hockey you need seniors for the tough parts of the season [section and state tournaments],” Vannelli said. “Golf isn’t like that. We’ve been to state three straight years, and we’re still young.”
Junior Jack Rowe and sophomore Muzzy Donohue have been on all three Cadets teams during their recent success. They both also are averaging 75 on the season. Donohue was the Cadets’ top finisher in the state tournament a year ago, tying for 10th place.
“We’re very determined,’’ Rowe said. “It’s starting to culminate into something special.”
Sophomore Brady Arnett has the lowest average on the season at 73. He won the Stillwater Invitational and finished fourth at the Tri-State.
Two other sophomores, Henry May and Gavin Brackey, average 79 and 80, respectively. Freshman Andrew Boemer also is averaging 79.
“We have six players who can shoot in the low 70s,” Rowe said. “That’s a nice security blanket to have.”
The Cadets got off to a slow start in the state tournament last year. They were 10 shots better during the final round of the two-day event.
“We got our bad round out of the way,” Rowe said. “We buckled down, and played looser.”
Rowe realizes the Cadets have to be even better than that second round (team score of 302) in order to become the state champion this season. Section play begins June 2, with the state tournament held June 13-14.
“You have to break 300 each day if you want to beat the top teams,” Rowe said. “This is the best team we’ve had at the school in a long time.”
Defending state champion Minnetonka and top-ranked Wayzata, the 2015 state champ, are the teams to beat.
“We’re getting closer each year,” Vannelli said. “We would need two solid days, which we’re capable of doing, to beat those two schools. It would be a special day.”