Friday, July 31, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Central golf teams begin play Tuesday

Leader sportswriter

The high school golf season officially tees off next week, but several of the teams in the 5A-Central Conference are struggling to find participants.

Of the number of teams in the conference that’s low on participants, the two Jacksonville schools, being Jacksonville and North Pulaski, are among those that would like to increase their numbers.

Neither Jacksonville nor North Pulaski currently has enough students to officially form a team, for both boys and girls. Jacksonville coach Max Hatfield said he currently has just one boy and two girls participating in the JHS golf program, while NP coach Robbie Walker says he currently has one boy and one girl in the NPHS golf program.

“It’s a little slow going,” said Hatfield, “because I guess there are not a lot of kids playing golf at Jacksonville right now. But we’re trying to get the word out and get it going.

“Both golf courses, Southern Oaks and Hickory Creek are working with us. Letting us use their facilities sometimes to practice and have matches is such a good thing.”

The two Lady Red Devil participants are seniors, and both have qualified for the Class 5A state tournament the last two years. Nikole Hardison and Hailey Elmore are the two Lady Red Devil seniors, and Hatfield says he’s looking forward to seeing how they’ll perform this season.

“I’m looking forward to see what they can do,” Hatfield said. “Hailey has really been working this summer. She’s been playing in a lot of ASGA tournaments and junior tournaments. She’s been taking lessons for the last year or two, and I’m really expecting a lot from Hailey.

“Nikole, she had a rough time last year. Last year was her first golf season and she had an ATV accident. So she missed part of the season, but still came back and qualified for state, and I think she’s been playing a little bit of golf this summer, too. So that’s the key.”

For the boys, Hatfield said on Wednesday that it’s still up in the air as far as how many participants he’ll have. Tyler Cox, a junior, is the only participant that is for sure going to be involved in the boys’ program.

Hatfield did say, though, that he thinks two more will perhaps join in Hunter Fletcher, who played last year, and Cody Anderson.

“It’s been tough getting them out this year,” Hatfield said. “Usually I’ve always filled the boys’ team. The last few years we haven’t had a full boys’ team. It just may be slim this year.”

To form a high school varsity golf team, three girls are needed for a girls’ team and four are needed to form a boys’ team. In a match, as many as four players can participate on a varsity girls’ team, and the top three, or lowest, scores are used for the official team scores at the end. For the boys in a match, as many as five players can participate on a varsity team, and the top four scores are taken to make up the official team score for each team.

One 5A-Central school that isn’t having the same participation troubles as most is Beebe, whose boys’ and girls’ teams each won the 5A-Central Conference championship a year ago.

Beebe’s numbers aren’t exactly high, but they’re just right, according to head coach Art Bell.

“We had six boys and four girls last year, and we’re going to have seven boys and four girls this year,” said Bell. “The numbers are about the same, which is a pretty good number to have. If you have too many, it’s difficult to spend the time that you need with each one of them, and if you don’t have enough, you’re a little thin.

“I think six or seven boys and four or five girls are about a perfect number for a 5A school, especially for our conference. Numbers are usually a problem for a lot of schools in our conference.

“I think last year there were only four schools that had enough to form a boys’ team and there were only two girls’ teams in our conference. I don’t know if that will change or not. From a numbers perspective, we’ve got just as many or more than anybody else in our conference.”

In addition to having more numbers, Bell said both of his teams have already begun weekly practices for the upcoming season.

“We’ve already started practicing,” Bell said. “We started last week. So we’re into about the second week of practice.”

Bell said that three of his top five boys are back from last year’s conference championship team. Landon Davis is one of those three, and Bell said he’s the standout amongst the Badgers.

“He’ll be our number one all year, without a doubt,” Bell said of Davis. “He actually finished second place in the individual competition at our conference tournament last year behind our number one last year, Cole McNeil.

“He’s improved. I would expect him to compete for the individual title this year if he continues to progress like he has.”

Sophomores Cole Clevenger and John Wintz are the other two returning for the varsity Badgers. Bell added that freshmen Caleb Barrentine and Bryson Halford also have a chance this year to compete for one of the five spots on the varsity team.

“They were both freshmen last year,” Bell said of his sophomores. “The learning curve was kind of steep, but the older guys helped them. I think that both of them have gotten better.

“We’ve also got a couple of newcomers that are freshmen (Barrentine and Halford) that I think will definitely compete for one of the top five spots. There’s a lot of upside.”

The Lady Badgers also have three of their top four golfers from last year returning. The lone Beebe senior, Baylee Halford, leads the Lady Badgers this year. Halford plays softball in the spring, and another softball player, junior Caelyn Longing, is another returning starter for the Lady Badgers.

Longing was the team’s number three golfer in 2014. The third returning starter for the Beebe girls is sophomore Keithlea Griffin.

With valuable experience back for the 2015 season, Bell’s expectations for his girls’ team isn’t any different from that of his boys’ team.

“For the girls, I told them the first day the same thing I told the boys – I expect us to definitely advance,” Bell said. “We ended up winning the conference last year, and the expectations are one thing, but the goal is to get to the next level.

“As far as team versus individual expectations, both with the boys and the girls, I made this clear to them at the beginning of last season as well as this year, and that is the goal is to win the conference as a team first, and if we have any individuals that are top scorers, that’s obviously secondary.

“The goal is to get to the state tournament. We expect to be there and hopefully repeat as conference champions in both divisions.”

Over in Sherwood, Sylvan Hills coach Greg Frantal says he doesn’t have any girls participating in the golf program at SHHS, but he does have six on the boys’ team, and he’s optimistic about what 2015 has in store for his group.

“As of right now, I have no girls,” said Frantal. “I had one last year and she graduated. But this year I have six boys and no girls. I’m real optimistic about the boys and what this coming season has for us.”

The Bears’ golf team is made up of two seniors, two juniors and two freshmen. Dalton Shuster and David Talcott are the two SHHS seniors. Frantal said he expects Talcott to have a breakout year in 2015.

“I expect my senior, David Talcott, to have a breakout year this year,” Frantal said. “He had a great year last year, but this year his head’s in the game. So I expect him to have a breakout year.”

Ethan Williamson and Travis Keele are the Bears’ two juniors, and the two freshmen are Nathan Martin and Nicholas Morgan. Frantal said he looks for Williamson to have a breakout year as well, and that Martin should be a solid addition to the team, despite being a freshman.

Williamson took part in the PGA junior state tournament in Maumelle this week, and three weeks ago, Martin won a PGA junior tournament in his age group, 14-under, at the Chenal Country Club in Little Rock.

“Ethan should have a breakout year, and then Nathan, he’s going to be a welcomed addition to our team,” Frantal said. “He’s been shooting in the mid and high 80s, so he’s going to be a good addition to our team as a freshman and he’s just going to get better.”

Sylvan Hills’ first match of the season will be Tuesday at The Greens at North Hills in Sherwood against Jacksonville. That will be Jacksonville’s first match of the season as well. On Friday, JHS will host a match at the Hickory Creek course in Jacksonville, and that match will start at 9 a.m.

Beebe’s first match of the season will be Aug. 18 against Bald Knob at the Mountain Springs golf course at Greystone in Cabot, which is where Beebe will host the 5A-Central golf tournament in late September.