The high school golf season tees off Monday with the 26th annual Simmons Bank Wildcat Invitational. It begins at 10 a.m. at the Lions Club and will be hosted by El Dorado’s reigning 5A state boys and girls champions.
El Dorado returns 18 players from last year’s teams, including five All State performers in Aubrey Marx, Hope Walthall, Aaron Ezell, Keaton Michael and Miller Wallace.
The boys’ starting lineup for Monday starts with Jon Brooks Elia (Jr.), Wallace (Sr.), Michael (Soph.), Ezell (Sr.) and Brody McKinney (Sr.). The top four are returning from the state championship team and Brody will be making his first varsity start after winning a playoff with Austin Jobe (Sr.) for the fifth spot to open the season.
The girls’ lineup will start off exactly how they it at the state tournament last year with all four returning. Marx (Sr.) and Walthall (Jr.) are 1 and 2 with very little distance separating them. Lani Hammock and Alexa Hulsey are both seniors returning hoping to help defend the title.
Both El Dorado teams are coming off a national high school tournament in North Carolina.
“The trip to the National Invitational was a great experience for our student-athletes and it also showed us the amount of junior golf talent there is across the country,” said El Dorado coach Chris Ezell. “That experience definitely helped motivate the team to work hard to improve and they all would like to earn another trip to that event. I have already noticed improvement in all their games and we are ready to get this season started.”
Monday’s Simmons Bank Wildcat Invitational will feature golfers from eight schools. El Dorado won both boys and girls divisions last year, but will face familiar opponents in conference foes Hot Springs Lakeside and White Hall. Camden Fairview, Crossett, Little Rock Central, Sylvan Hills and Magnolia will round out the field for this year’s event. Several of these schools are returning multiple players.
“We should see a very competitive event,” said Ezell.
El Dorado will have some JV players in the field as well. JT Polk, Caden Meadows and Clayton Sewell will join Jobe in the boys’ division. Sydney Marx, Katie Benson and Jana Powell will play in the girls’ division.
“The Simmons Bank Wildcat Invitational is the state’s longest running high school golf invitational tournament. They have continued to support our golf program for over 25 years,” Ezell said. “We are so thankful for Rob Robinson and his staff including Leslie Carroll who has been the event coordinator for several years. They make this event special for the high school golfers and it’s a fun way to open the high school season.”