Wednesday, August 09, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot golf eyes return to vying for state crown

Leader sports editor

The Cabot boys’ golf team celebrated a win in its first official match last Friday, narrowly out-dueling North Little Rock to win the Wildcat Invitational by one stroke at The Greens at North Hills in Sherwood. Taking the four best scores out of five competitors, the Cabot team combined to shoot a 301, but all five shot a solid 78 or better. Connor Gaunt was the event medalist with a round of 71.

It was also the first official match as head coach for Mike Tucker, who took over the golf program after longtime Cabot coach Ronnie Tollett retired in June. Tucker has been a basketball coach at Cabot for the past 15 years, but will head up the golf team and will assist swim coach Brian Bowen this year after 38 years total of coaching basketball. He was the head girls’ basketball coach at North Little Rock before coming to Cabot.

He started at Cabot as Tollett’s assistant for the boys’ basketball team for one year. He was current coach Jerry Bridges’ assistant for seven years. He then took over the Cabot Junior High North team for three years, and has been the Cabot Junior High South head coach for the last four years.

“All in all I’ve been coaching basketball for 38 years,” said Tucker. “So it was a good time to put away the whistle. In some form or fashion, as a player or as a coach, I’ve been in basketball since 1964. I’ll miss every phase of it, but it was time.”

The Panther boys have potential to be very strong this year. Gaunt has won several tournaments on the junior circuit of the Arkansas State Golf Association this summer. It started with a win in the Shadow Valley Jr. Championship in late March. In June he won the Bubba Smart Memorial and tied for first in the Burns Park Junior tournament on July 11-12, and Gaunt won the Randy Beaver Junior tournament.

Calhoon also has a couple wins on the ASGA junior circuit. He won the Fianna Hills Junior Championship on June 6-7, and the Greers Ferry Junior on July 13-14. He also came in second right behind Gaunt in the Randy Beaver event.

Gaunt and Calhoon also won their respective matches in the Southern Junior Cup last week, helping Team Arkansas to a second-place finish behind Alabama in that multi-state match-play event in Oxford, Miss.

“That whole group is pretty good,” Tucker said. “There is a strong, rich history for Cabot golf – boys and girls. A lot of state championships have been won here. This year’s team has an opportunity to follow in those footsteps.”

Tucker has been playing golf since his mid-20s, but sees his job as head golf coach as more like a manager.
“It’s different from what I’m used to doing,” Tucker said. “These top kids are getting good instruction and they work on it. I get them on the bus and get them to the course on time.”

The top two girls are both juniors – Ashley DeSalvo and Kaycie Merrell. DeSalvo topped the Cabot team last week. While the depth isn’t there for this year’s girls’ team, Tucker said there was improvement between the opening practice match against Conway and the Wildcat Invitational.

“The girls made vast improvements from the first match to the second,” Tucker said. “They’ll continue to get better because they’re a hard-working group, too.

The main thing I like about it is, both boys and girls are good quality student-athletes. They represent Cabot School District well on the course and in the classroom. They are something to be proud of.”