Scott Williams could not be more ready to start the prep golf season. And for good reason.
Last fall, both of his Fayetteville golf teams finished as runner-up at the Class 6A state golf tournaments, and most of those golfers are back to try and take that next step to a state championship.
On the girls team, which finished second to state champion Springdale Har-Ber, three of Fayetteville’s five golfers from a year ago return, led by Gia Gentile, Elizabeth Lim and Drew Mizanin.
“I feel strong about our girls with three back from last year,” Williams said. “Anytime you have the majority of your kids back, you naturally feel good about the year, especially the way we finished.”
It’s even better on the boys side with all five Bulldogs back after finishing second to Little Rock Catholic by five strokes. Seniors Zach Gardiner and Zach Knight were both selected to the all-state team, and Connor Goens recently captured the Ben I. Mayo tournament title in Fort Smith. Campbell Cox and Sam Patterson round out the returning five.
Those five will be pressed every week by several newcomers trying to get into the top five, said Williams.
“I got three others that are sitting in the wings that will be watching for that four and five spot,” Williams said. “People will tell you that it’s good to have, and it is, but someone’s going to come out of here and not like the outcome. It’s going to be a fun year because we’re going to have a battle on our own team. “
Gardiner and Knight will miss today’s tournament in Cabot as they have been invited to play in the Junior Southern Cup in Mississippi.
Har-Ber’s girls will open defense of its state championship by hosting the Lady Wildcat Invitational today at Springdale Country Club. Tim Rippy takes over for Tim Ayers, who retired following last season’s championship.
Rippy was previously the girls basketball coach at both Gentry and Siloam Springs, but has been looking for an opportunity to coach golf for some time.
“It’s exciting to come to a school that has some talent in place,” said Rippy. “I don’t feel pressure because I probably put more pressure on myself than what I would feel externally. We’re practicing hard and preparing well. The kids are very committed here. So I’m really looking forward to the season.”
Charlie Whorton, who finished second to teammate Grace Kilcrease in last year’s state tournament, returns to lead the Lady Wildcats. Lauren Milligan is also back after placing 10th at the 6A state tournament a year ago.
Rippy played golf as a youth growing up and was a walk-on at Arkansas Tech. But he was recruited over to help with the women’s basketball team by then-coach Joe Foley, and he put golf on the back burner as he focused on girls basketball.
“I have stayed very involved in the game and I coached golf at Gentry,” said Rippy. “I do miss basketball and the players, but I’m getting to cultivate great relationships here with the golfers. I’m just a golf nut. I’ve always said that if I didn’t coach basketball that I would do something in the game of golf. I’ve had a couple of opportunities, but this one just really was an opportunity that I could not pass up.”
Bentonville’s boys have won two of the past three state championships, finishing third last fall behind Little Rock Catholic and Fayetteville. Coach Kent Early has four of his five golfers from last year’s squad back.
Owen Crain, AJ Martin, Landon McNitt and Zach Carter all return to try and lead the Tigers back to the top of the 6A state leaderboard. Crain is the only senior in the group.
“Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect,” said Early, whose team had two freshmen and just one senior last year. “I would naturally think we are going to be a little bit better, because they got that year under their belt and played in the state tournament.”
A new feature this season is a scoring app that will allow anyone to follow the golfers in their rounds will be introduced for Class 6A, said Williams.
The app will allow coaches, players and fans to track the golfers on every hole for the entire season.
“Basically all coaches have to do is set up their roster and submit their players,” said Williams. “It’s mandatory for 6A. We’re kind of their lab rats this year. I’m sure we’ll have some learning curves, but this should make it easy for the players and coaches to track scores.”