— The following were voted the area’s top athletes by the Phoenix staff in three spring sports — golf, track and tennis. Read on to find out their stories of success.
Catrina Pearson, Muskogee (girls)
Zac Oliver, Checotah (boys)
Pearson shot 83 in her first tournament at Ponca City’s Lew Wentz Golf Course and the negative thoughts flooded her mind.
“I struggle at that course anyway but starting out rough I thought ‘here comes a bad season,’ said Pearson, a Muskogee High senior. “I said that because last season I really didn’t show the potential I wanted to and I set a goal this year of staying under 80.”
After the seventh-place finish, she took second at the Tahlequah tournament with a 78 at Cherry Springs Golf Course, finishing only behind 4A state champion Hannah Ward of Poteau.
It would be a sign of things to come.
After a first, two seconds and a fourth-place finish sprinkled around an eighth and ninth place outing, Pearson followed an 80 at the Class 6A state tournament at Muskogee Country Club with the event’s only sub-par round, a 1-under 70. It moved her from 11th to fourth overall, splitting the thought-to-be invincible Union squad to get there.
“Almost every single tournament, I came back the next tournament with a good round,” she said. “It was like I proved to myself that the second day I could always bounce back.”
She even recreated the day she shot 69 in a summer tournament at her home course before the second day of state.
“I was just off that,” she said just before the medal ceremony.
She had five birdies, including back-to-back birdie putts from six to eight feet away on the eighth and ninth holes, the last two holes of her round, for her best-ever state finish.
Pearson will attend Grand Canyon (Ariz.) on a golf scholarship next fall. “Finishing that way, my last high school tournament, will be the one thing I’ll never forget,” she said. “It was great to go out that way.”
Oliver made a name for himself as the school’s first three-time state qualifier and finished in a fifth-place tie at the Class 3A tournament at Dornick Hills Country Club in Ardmore, shooting a 10-over 220.
The Wildcats’ senior wanted more and wasn’t exactly thrilled when he talked about his round that day.
By the time he got to reflect on this honor, the irritation of 7-over of his score coming on the 10th and 11th holes had faded.
“I wasn’t too mad. The first round (6-over), that kind of made me mad,” he said. “Other than that I hung in there and finished well.
“It’s sunk in that I placed at state for the first time and for doing so this year, made all-state. I’m glad I finished my career that way.”
Oliver won three tournaments over the course of the season, Fort Gibson at Fountainhead, Henryetta at Henryetta Country Club and the Big Eight Conference tournament. His lowest score came in a 3-under 69 at the regional qualifier at Henryetta where he was second.
Oliver moves on to Paris Junior College next year with an eye at an offer from a four-year college.
“My wedge game inside of 100 needs to get better,” he said. “I’m going to go to work on that.”
Kayla Davis, Sequoyah
Davis wasn't sure she could run fast enough to compete on the high school level when the year began.
The freshman from Sequoyah High School not only competed, she became a state champion, capturing the Class 4A 400-meter dash. She ran it in 58.99, three-tenths a second off her top qualifying time but almost a full second ahead of runner-up Audrea Hamric of Henryetta.
“Awesome,” Davis said. “This is incredible considering I’m a freshman.”
So was Hamric, setting up four years of battles here.
Thinking back on her victory at the state meet, Davis was certain the race was hers with 100 meters to go.
“I usually run my fastest by then,” she said. “When this year began, I couldn't even run 58 seconds. The hard work is paying off.”
Kevin Peterson, Wagoner
Peterson can honestly say running against Class 5A competition was better.
“I had to work a lot harder because the competition was at a higher level,” the Wagoner senior sprinter said.
Peterson won the 200-meter dash in 21.47 seconds at the state meet, making him a repeat champion in the event after winning it in 4A last spring. That led his way to being a repeat winner of the Male Track Athlete of the Year.
Because of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association wanted to make 5A more competitive this spring, Wagoner was one of eight schools moved up to a higher classification.
Earlier in the state meet, Peterson finished second to Edmond Deer Creek’s Otugo Ananaba in the 100. He wasn’t about to get beat in the longer sprint as he got into the starting blocks in lane 7.
“I remember taking off and I looked in the corner of my eye and saw I was in second place,” he said. “I thought I was in good shape. I told myself, ‘Don’t stop.’ I felt myself getting tired, but I was gaining on that kid from Edmond Deer Creek. I didn’t give up until the end of the race.
“When I crossed the finish line and knew I had won, I let out a yell like I did last year when I won in 4A.”
Peterson’s time in the 200 at state last year was 22.21. When he got out of the blocks slowly, Wagoner coach Jeff Williams wasn’t worried.
“He’s always been a bad starter, but he finishes stronger than anyone else,” Williams said. “He trailed in that race for the first 180 meters. But he was just stronger in the last 20 and took over to win the race.
“It was his last sporting event as a Wagoner Bulldog and I wanted him to go out and win it.”
Shan Bradley, Muskogee
Muskogee’s Shan Bradley began the season confident in his ability on the court. All he needed to do was prove it.
Bradley finished the season with a 21-3 (.875) record and a fourth-place finish in No. 2 singles at the state tournament, falling in the semifinals to the two-time Class 6A champion and earning the Phoenix Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
“This year I put in a lot of hard work,” said Bradley when referring to his success. ”Over the summer, I have to work a lot harder, especially if I want to compete with all those guys from the club programs. The guy that won state is out of one of those programs but he is an all around good player and nationally ranked.”
Bradley won the award, just barely over teammate Connor Finerty, who finished with a 24-5 (.828) record and a fourth-place finish in No. 1 singles. Muskogee coach Rusty Bradley, Shan’s father and the 1976 Class 5A No. 1 singles champion, said picking one over the other for the award is nearly impossible.
“I wish it could be a co-award,” the coach said.
Taylor Jordan, Midway
You can’t get more dominant than Jordan, who not only went unbeaten but decimated 29 opponents en route to a Class 4A championship. The 6-4, 6-1 win over Reynolds Crew of Metro Christian was the first time all season Jordan, a senior, had lost more than one game in a set, and she even helped Crew get one of those by double-faulting it entirely.
“Too much energy on my part,” she said as an excuse. A reasonable one, considering the focus she’s had on this season.
“Mornings at home, I would do sprint drills,” she said, noting that she used her 100-yard driveway. I really don't like sprint drills.”
But she didn’t like losing either. Her whole focus was not just getting to state but doing it and winning in the dominant form she did.
“That kind of workout contributed to my confidence factor. I didn’t want to leave anything undone in terms of preparation.”
There’s now talk that the only female state champion in Midway history will get the tennis court she and her family helped refurbish named after her.
“It’s certainly something that will be deserved,” said athletic director Jeremy Jackson.