El Dorado set to take aim at third straight state title

El Dorado’s girls will enter the 5A State Golf Tournament Tuesday as the two-time defending champions. The Lady Wildcats could finally see their dominance come to an end, however.

“We definitely lost a lot off last year’s team, coming off back-to-back championships and losing eight kids out of the 10 that were in the program last year,” said El Dorado coach Chris Ezell. “Hope (Walthall) was a stalwart on those two championships, too. To have her back, obviously, helps out a lot. The other girls, Daphny (Chen) she’s improved and a lot of it was her realizing, we don’t have 10 kids anymore. It’s like, hey I’ve got to play. I think that’s what has helped her step up this year. My daughter hadn’t played in several years but she did have a background in golf. She’s improved throughout the year. Her shooting 116 was actually one of her lower rounds.”

The Lady Wildcats finished second to Hot Springs Lakeside in the conference tournament last week. Walthall claimed medalist with a career-best and school record 67.

“I hope to keep the momentum going and I hope my girls do good, too,” said Walthall. “I have faith in my girls that we will do good because we are continuing to improve this entire season. I know they’re excited about it.”

Russellville Country Club will host the tournament on Tuesday. The players will have a practice round on Monday.

Ezell said the course sets up similar to the El Dorado Country Club, which could help Walthall, who has never played on it.

“I think if she can play with that same focus and determination, it’s possible. It’s unlikely a kid is going to break their all-time lowest round ever twice in a row,” he said. “She’s probably at a point, right now, where she’s the most determined she’s ever been.”

The Lady Wildcats will not be the favorite to win the title. That honor could go to Lakeside.

“Lakeside is probably the favorite to win the whole thing and we’ve seen them several times. I think they had a 50-something shot advantage over us at conference. They’re balanced and very talented. It’ll be hard to overcome that,” Ezell said. “My biggest thing is to enjoy the moment, have fun with it and learn as much as you can and have a good experience.

“Hope is going to have a little different goal. She wants to finish as high as she can. One of her goals was to make the Overall. That’s definitely one of her personal goals for herself. The rest of the team needs to have that experience and learn from it and be in that environment. The conference tournament was the first time that three of those girls have had a monitor with them and had to go through that process. It’s a little different when you have an adult standing over you, watching your every move.”

Split tee times on Tuesday will begin at 9 a.m.