For decades, the Conway has had deep roots in fertile soil that has resulted in a rich harvest of outstanding amateur and collegiate golfers.
The upside of that is a steady line and ever-growing success probably unequaled in Arkansas High School golf history, dotted with names such as Smith, Shock, Campbell, Molder, Manion, Cuthbertson, Maggio and Roachell.
The challenge is managing what amounts to a small, non-profit business.
Conway High coach Janet Taylor has 29 players on her boys and girls rosters. The number of players on the boys roster is 17. Only five can play on each day of the 7A state boys championships, which begins Monday at Centennial Valley Country Club. Conway Country Club hosted the 7A girls event last week.
For the first day of the boys tournament, Taylor will sent out five seniors, three of them (Parker Rice, Chase Netherton and Tanner Bezet) veterans from last year’s state title team. Carson Roberts and Austin Smith are the other two players. Tyler Starr, Austin Tate and J.P Wade are the other seniors.
The top scorers for the Wampus Cats have fluctuated widely throughout the season.
“Depth is our strength,” Taylor said. “Two or three times this season, we’ve sent out three teams and one of our other teams has finished second in the tournament to our varsity. It creates a tough situation when you have that many solid golfers and you can only send out five. Every one of our top six has had a low score in a tournament we’ve played.
“The good thing is it creates competition within our team. These golfers push each other every day. They know they can’t relax or take a day off. They also help each other — with their swings and things like that.”
Most high school golf teams are lucky to have half or a third of the personnel Conway has on its roster.
“It’s quite an endeavor coaching 29 players,” said Taylor, who will try to lead her fourth boys team to a state title after the CHS girls won their first last week. “The school district and administration has been really good to give me an assistant (Craig Conner) this year. That allows us more flexibility, and we can get in good practice time without loading up on any one course.
“It’s not easy but I feel our program should be open, and anybody who is interested in playing this great game needs the chance. We have so many golfers who are involved in summer programs; there’s just a lot of interest.”
The Wampus Cats get support from their alumni and parents.
“So many of our alumni come back here and help the kids and want to give back,” Taylor said. “They remain proud to be Wampus Cats and want to continue the tradition. Just minutes after our girls won the state tournament last week — and I don’t know how she found out — I received a text from Mary Michael Maggio (former Lady Cat star who was the individual Big 12 champion last season while playing for Texas A&M). She’s out of town, but she’s still following the program and supporting it.”
She said the parents and community has kept constant energy in the program and were a major reason that Conway won the bid to host the two 7A tournaments this season.
“Our parents and parents organization are the backbone of the program,” Taylor said. “We couldn’t do what we do without them. What’s great about coaching in Conway is the community and the parents and always willing to dive in and help. When I wanted us to bid on hosting the tournament, I told people I couldn’t do this by myself. I would do the work on the front end but there were a lot of things I needed to support us and a lot of workers to take care of various things at the tournaments. Once the tourney start, I just wanted to coach. The whole community came out in support with the funds and we’ve had a ton of volunteers who have helped in all kids of ways.
“The pros and the folks at both country clubs has been very cooperative in trying to make it one of the best experiences for all the teams, making them welcome. For the girls tournament, I’ve already had several compliments on how well-run things were. It was one of the best tournaments I’ve been involved in. Everybody has worked hard to make both tournaments first class.”
Conway has won boys state championships in 1978, 1982, 2002, 2008 and 2011. Taylor expects a stiff challenge from several teams as the Cats try to defend their championship over a tricky course that will play about 6,800 to 6,900 yards from the tips Monday and Tuesday. The conference championships will be decided by Monday’s rounds. The field will be cut in half for Tuesday’s second round.
“I think it’s wide open,” Taylor said. “I think it’s gonna come down to the last few holes and a few strokes. It’s gonna be tight. I’ve told our golfers that our No. 4 and 5 scores will be just as important as the top two. I think we will send out five players who are capable of going low and having solid, steady rounds. It’s gonna be a grind.”
Teams will begin teeing off at 9 a.m. each day. There is no admission charge for spectators.
Beside the eight seniors, other members of the CHS boys team are: Luke Baker, Clay Bradshaw, Carter Cloe, Lincoln Hill, Gray McEowen, Grant Risinger, Kyle Sanson, Dylan Smith and Josh Walker.
Members of the 7A state championship girls team are: Savannah Brown, Morgan Clark, Allison Ellen, Tristan Jenkins, Brynn Lea, Emily Lock, Alexis McDaniel, Grace Moore, Summar Roachell, Meghan Smith, Logan Tolliver and Anna Turner.