Ten months ago both Walker Valley golf teams advanced to the TSSAA state championship tournament.
If they are going to the same this fall, they have some big holes to fill.
“We lost some great seniors. Three — Avery (George), Corey (Evans) and Clark (Melton) — are playing college golf now,” remarked Mustang coach Bob Williams Monday during a team practice for today’s season opener against Boyd-Buchanan at the Moccasin Bend course in Chattanooga.
“Losing them, plus Bryson Riggs, is tough to replace, but we have some good golfers coming back,” he added. “We have two girls and two boys who won a region championship and played in the state tournament back.”
This year’s Mustang squads have just one senior apiece — Zach Kilby and Brittani Pederson.
“Both Zach and Brittani have improved quite a bit since last year and have been playing well this summer,” Williams praised.
“Avery, Corey and Clark set the tone for us with their work ethic the past few years,” Williams commented. “They didn’t take days off. They worked on their games every day. They were great examples for the younger players and now is the time for those players to step up.”
George led the Lady Mustangs to a runner-up finish in the girls state last October and is now playing for Middle Tennessee State University.
After a sixth-place finish at the last state tournament, Evans and Melton are now at the University of West Georgia and Young-Harris College respectively. Evans also participated in the 2008 state tournament for Walker Valley’s squad that finished fourth.
Along with Kilby, junior Hunter Carroll returns from last fall’s state squad.
“Hunter came up big for us several times last year,” related Williams. “He played No. 5 for us, but saved us several times. When others might have a bad round, he’d come through with a good score to help us out. He has improved his game quite a bit this summer.”
Junior Garrett Cantrell played in several varsity matches last season, but didn’t get to compete at the district, region or state tournaments. Teams are only allowed to carry five players into postseason play.
“Garrett has the physical tools, but last year a bad shot or bad hole could get him off his game. This year he’s got it all together and is playing well,” the coach assessed. “I’m expecting him to be in the top 3 for us this year.”
Williams is also expecting junior Jordan Leggett to earn either the 5 or 6 spot in the Mustang lineup.
“He took a job at the (Cleveland) Country Club and has been able to play a lot this summer,” the coach stated. “The improvement is night and day.”
The upperclassmen will get a run for their money from a strong group of younger players who could sneak into the starting lineup.
Sophomores Kyle Limburg and Ira Lee, along with freshmen Dillon Lillard and Corey Rollins, give Walker Valley a bright future for this season and beyond.
“Dillon (Lillard) won the (Cleveland) Country Club’s Junior championship with a 71,” related Williams. “I knew he has talent, but he’s really surprised us. He’s a solid player.”
“Kyle is the younger brother of (Ocoee Middle) coach Corey Limburg,” Williams commented. “He has a great swing and just needs experience.”
“Ira (Lee) has the ability to break into the lineup and Corey (Rollins) shot a (1-over-par) 37 in practice the other day,” the coach expressed.
“Our younger guys have been a pleasant surprise and the competition they will create for the starting spots will be great for the team,” Williams stated. “The guys know if they slip up there’s somebody right behind them pushing to get into the lineup.”
“Corey (Limburg) has done a great job at the (Ocoee) middle school for several years now, developing players’ skills and preparing them for the high school level,” praised Williams.
On the girls’ team, junior Katie Bishop will step into the No. 1 slot for the Lady Mustangs.
“She shot a 75 on the last day of the state tournament. She was key to us coming in second and having a chance at a state title,” Williams praised. “She has played well this summer.”
“Katie has decided she wants to play (golf) in college and maybe beyond, so she has been putting in a lot of time on the course beyond our (team) practices.”
“She has been working with a swing coach and has improved her length and accuracy off the tee as well as her short game,” the coach related. “She is working on her putting right now.”
After struggling some in the opening round of the state tournament last fall, Pederson came back with an 89 on the second day.
“She has improved every year,” the coach assessed. “She improved her length off the tee, but is still working on her short game.”
Junior Kassey Gregg, sophomore Haley Ellis and freshman Katie Medley add depth to the Lady Mustang roster.
“Katie is going to be a good four-year player for us,” Williams stated. “She’s putting in a lot of extra time and has been a pleasant surprise.”
“Both Kassey and Haley have improved and are working hard every day to get better,” he added.
Williams expects his squads to battle with the Ooltewah girls and McMinn County boys, who have three players back, for the District 5-AAA titles this season.
“Bradley and Cleveland (boys) have strong No. 1’s and will be good teams as well,” the Mustang mentor said.
“I’m excited about the season,” he declared. “We should be right in the hunt for both the boys and girls (district and region) titles.”