Bentonville High’s girls golfers appeared to be headed toward a rebuilding phase this fall.
The Lady Tigers lost three starters from last year’s state runnerup team, including Class 7A state individual champion Kate Robertson and all-state player Maddie Weston. If that wasn’t enough, there weren’t any girls trying out to fill those voids and left the numbers even smaller.
“That’s quite a blow,” Bentonville coach Lindsey Davis said. “You lose three starters, then there has been a decrease in the number of girls playing golf here.”
A couple of transfers, however, have not only softened the blow, but could make the Lady Tigers contenders once again. Lilly Thomas moved in from Heber Springs, where she finished fifth in the Class 4A meet last year, and Jacquelyn Thomas is back with the team after being at Haas Hall Academy.
Thomas has already been impressive with her 2-over 74 and helped Bentonville win the Springdale Invitational earlier this year. She then shot an even-par 36 in a Thursday match against Bentonville West at Bella Vista Country Club.
“Lilly has the whole game,” Davis said. “From drive to putt, it’s there. Jacquelyn has been concentrating on her academics, so she’s got some catching up to do.”
Those two are joined by Bentonville’s two returnees — Kinslee Miller and Chloe Ellis — and newcomer Sydney Billington, the younger sister for former Bentonville golfer Taytum Billington. Miller finished 16th as an individual during last year’s Class 7A state tournament, and Ellis was just five strokes behind her.
“Kinslee was coming on strong toward the end of last season and spent time playing in AJGA matches this summer,” Davis said. “Chloe is driving the ball well, but just needs to improve on her putting. I’m excited to see what Sydney can do because she’s so athletic and she plays a lot of golf.”
Bentonville High boys
To say the Tigers are going through a young movement through this season would be an understatement. Of the 11 players on Bentonville’s roster this fall, seven of them are freshmen and are playing high school golf for the first time.
“We brought in a lot of youth, which is a good thing,” Tigers coach Kent Early said. “It’s a good thing because what we are trying to do with our golf program is get some younger guys in so we can have four years with them.
“We’re trying to do things on our end a little different as far as practice time and getting the guys together more, getting them on the course a little more than we have in the past.”
The abundance of youth has thrown players like Johnathan Sanchez and Nick Woodhouse into leadership roles. Sanchez was a starter last year and has had Bentonville’s best performance in the Springdale Invitational earlier this month and in last week’s match against Bentonville West, while Woodhouse was a part-time starter last year and has been the Tigers’ No. 3 scorer in both matches this season.
Other Tigers have already tried to make some early impressions. Tripp McConnell, a senior who played tennis for two years before moving over to golf, was the medalist in Thursday’s match against Bentonville West when he shot a 2-over 38 over nine holes on the Bella Vista Country Club’s back nine.
“Tripp has come out and improved his game,” Early said. “He came out at the Springdale tournament and shot a 78. We’re going to need scores in the 70s in order to compete.
“We have some good freshmen that can score and that will compete for varsity time. We have those other spots that are open for anybody to take, and I think we have a couple of freshmen that can push for those spots. We’ll have to see how they respond to the pressure of conference play.”