By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
Golf season is winding down for area high schools with the girls regional tournaments being conducted on Tuesday.
In Class 4A, Hilldale, the defending state champions, and Fort Gibson have been battling each other all season long. Those two schools along with Poteau, with defending medalist Hannah Ward, look to be the favorites to bring home the state title.
“I think between us, Fort Gibson and Poteau – one of those three will win the state tournament,” said Hilldale coach Oren Sikes. “I don’t know a whole lot about teams on the other side of the state. Clinton, Elk City and Seminole are pretty good. But I really think it’s on this side of the state.”
Hilldale returned two of the four golfers from last year in sophomores Katie Kirkhart and Kennedi Puckett, playing in the No. 1 and 2 spots in the lineup. Also on the roster for the Lady Hornets are junior Paige Snyder and freshman Shelby McGlothlin.
“Katie’s gotten better as the year’s gone on and Kennedi’s had a couple of tournaments where she shot in the 80s, including Clary Fields (in Sapulpa) where our regional is,” Sikes said. “Paige has been with me for a while and she’s the one that’s kind of struggling right now. But I think when we get to state, she’ll all right. Shelby has worked hard and is probably one of the main reasons we haven’t dropped off from last year.”
Kirkhart, who got a late start to the season because of the postseason run by the Lady Hornets’ basketball team, feels there’s still room for improvement for this year’s squad.
“We’re not playing as good as we want, but we’re playing all right,” Kirkhart said. “It puts more pressure on us (as defending champs). We’re like one of the front-runners to win it again.”
Fort Gibson could be considered the dark horse of the triumvirate but coach Gary Hendrix feels his group is closing the gap. However, he feels it’s a two-horse race, on paper.
“Poteau probably have the best individual girl in Hannah,” he said. “She’s going to play next year at Arkansas-Little Rock, where my daughter played. But (Sikes) probably right in Hilldale and Poteau being the best teams.
“We’ve gotten close, having beaten both of them once this year. We started out probably 20 strokes behind them and now we’re at least within striking distance.”
Fort Gibson will get a good opportunity to see how far they have advanced on Tuesday. The Lady Tigers are in the same regional with Poteau at Wolf Ridge Golf Course.
Leading the way for the Lady Tigers are Kadrian Shelton and Emilee Rigsby. At No. 3 and 4 are Savannah Gray and Shelby Philips with Hendrix still seeking a solid No. 5.
“They’ve both had good years but we need them to play well,” Hendrix said. “But probably, more importantly, I need a couple of good scores from them if we’re going to have a chance to win it. They’re all going to have to play well to win.”
The Eufaula Lady Ironheads are in the same position as Hilldale, having captured last year’s 3A title. Eufaula coach Bill Bumgarner has this year’s squad in prime form heading into it’s regional at Cherokee Trails.
“We’ve won every tournament we’ve played in this year except the first one,” he said. “That was a state preview at Fountainhead, where our state tournament is, and Idabel ended up beating us in that one.”
Although Bumgarner lost two players, Faith Lasiter and Hannah Rippy, from the championship team, he feels this team is just as good, if not better.
His top two players are sophomores Melissa Eldredge and Heidi Stafford. Joining them are junior Rachel Donaldson, a move-in from Haworth, and freshmen Hope Lasiter, Faith’s sister, and Laura VanCleade.
“Melissa and Heidi have played pretty steady the whole year,” Bumgarner said. “All five have played real well for us this year. It’s like when I lost the two seniors at least I had three people to come in there and replace them. They’ve done a good job.”
In other regional action, Muskogee plays the 6A regional at Owasso Golf Athletic Club while Tahlequah travels McAlester Country Club for the 5A regional.
Checotah is in the same regional with Fort Gibson in 4A while Keys, Sequoyah and Stigler head to Cherokee Trails Golf Course to join Eufaula for the 3A regional. No area team advanced from the qualifier in 2A but Oktaha’s Jaylie Roper qualified for the regional as an individual.
The top three teams from each regional, and all members of those teams, qualify for next week’s state tournament. Individually, the top three in the individual standings, whether from a qualifying team or not, advance as well as the top four individuals from non-qualifying teams.