Medley: With boys golf in the mix, could this be White Plains' year to win first state title?
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
May 08, 2013 | 3586 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dustin Travis and his White Plains teammates are headed to the Class 3A state golf tournament. Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
Dustin Travis and his White Plains teammates are headed to the Class 3A state golf tournament. Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
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WHITE PLAINS -- White Plains High is eager to show state championships can come from the uncrowned, so who better to do it than a golf team making its first state-tourney appearance in recent memory?

And wouldn’t it be something if the sixth-ranked softball team helped White Plains win its first two state titles in the same year?

The possibilities begin Monday, as the Wildcats’ boys’ golf team, dramatically improved under first-year coach Marcus Harrell, carries North Alabama’s top seed among Class 3A teams onto The Shoals course.

“That would be awesome,” junior Dustin Travis said about his team’s chance to bring home his school’s first state title. “It would.”

White Plains won’t be the only Calhoun County-based team with big hopes headed into Muscle Shoals. Led by sophomore Jordan Gregoria, Alexandria’s girls look to break Hartselle’s hold on the blue trophy on the 1A-5A level.

Hartselle has won the past four state titles. Alexandria was runner-up the past three years.

“It would mean a lot to our girls,” Alexandria coach Brenard Howard said. “They shot the lowest round ever in the first day at the state tournament (two years ago), 245, which was a great score, but then Hartselle turned in a 240, and we’re still five down.

“Hartselle was that good last year, and they lost two girls from that team last year. That puts everybody about even.”

Alexandria’s girls won the state title in 2008, taking their place in their school’s rich history of championships.

White Plains hasn’t won a state title, a fact that’s come to the forefront in recent years as the school has grown and its softball team has become a perennial contender. The Wildcats entered the 2012 state tourney as 3A’s top-ranked team and head into this weekend’s South Central Regional ranked sixth, having just beaten defending 3A champion Saks in the Area 8 final.

Assuming White Plains’ softball team gets through its regional Friday and Saturday in Troy, the Wildcats’ title shot comes starting a week from today in Montgomery. The boys’ golf team’s time is sooner, so the Wildcats can be their school’s first.

They got in this position by winning sub-state for the first time, shooting a 326 for a 10-shot victory at Silver Lakes on Monday. Kyle Morrow led the way with a 75, followed by Dustin Travis (78) and Trevor Lane (82) and Layton Bussey (90).

“It’s different, that’s for sure,” said Travis, the Wildcats’ top player with an average score of 74 and change on the year. “We haven’t been there before.

“A lot of us are young, and we’ve worked really hard lately to get to where we are. I believe we have a good chance to be something.”

White Plains will be paired with South Alabama top seed Bayside Academy.

Harrell said the Wildcats will go into the tournament as the “underdog” because of inexperience. The team has no seniors and one junior among its top five players and has never advanced this far.

Still, White Plains isn’t far off the pace.

“For 18 holes, we’re averaging within 10 shots of the best out there,” Harrell said. “If we can get hot for two days, who knows?”

Everyone on the Calhoun County golf scene knows Harrell. The Jacksonville State and Oxford High graduate helped the Yellow Jackets win the 5A state title in 2005 and went on to be one of the area’s top amateurs.

He and teammate Ott Chandler won the Sunny King Charity Classic, the county’s top event, in 2008 and 2010.

This school year marks Harrell’s first as a physical education teacher and coach. He splits time between White Plains Middle School and the high school. He also coaches junior-high volleyball and girls’ basketball, and his basketball team won the county championship.

He was a natural to take over White Plains’ golf program, and progress has come quickly.

“He’s turned our golf team into a whole different team,” Travis said. “We’ve practiced a lot more. We’ve worked harder. He’s taught us a lot.”

From the first qualifying practice of the season, some players have improved between 30 and 40 shots. While the results have spiked, the methods are nothing fancy, Harrell said.

“I teach these kids constantly that hard work beats talent, and it’s definitely a big change for them,” he said. “We practice almost every day of the week, as much as we possibly can, but it’s at the point now where I don’t even have to make them practice. They want to practice.”

The Wildcats have spent this week practicing on Pine Hill, their home course, getting ready to play the longest course they’ve played. Then again, the competition will have to make the same adjustment.

Winning White Plains’ first state title in his first year at the school “would be unbelievable,” Harrell said.

“White Plains has come a long way in the athletic department,” he said. “Eventually, it’s going to happen for some sport. I’d love to win it, but softball has a good chance this year, as well.

“We’re pushing these kids every day in the weight room and at practices. We have a great group of coaches. It’s eventually going to happen, and I’d love to be part of it.”

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star
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