By D.E. Wheeler

Daily Journal

Two Northeast Mississippi high school golf teams, Hamilton and Tupelo, have a chance at three-peating as state champions for the 1996 season.

Perhaps the dominant team in the area for the past couple of seasons, Tupelo is shooting for its third straight Class 5A title. And that is something coach Lee Stratton says no 5A team has done before, though Tupelo is in as much a rebuilding year as anything.

“We’ve got two good ones coming back (seniors Jay Elmore and Phil Davis), but we’ve got to find two more, three more, to go with them,” Stratton said. “We feel like we’ve got a real good chance to defend with these two players.”

During last season, Tupelo won two big early season invitationals at Old Waverly and Mississippi State, and did not lose a single match the whole season.

Almost 30 people showed up for Tupelo’s first golf meeting, not counting potential junior high golfers, and Stratton hopes some of those will step up and fill the loss of six of his top golfers. Stratton feels that senior Bradley Smith, juniors Jason Ling and Brett Johnson and sophomore Keith Rutledge could be the ones to step forward and help Tupelo this season.

In Class 4A, Division 1 will be utlra-competitive with Oxford, Tishomingo County, Itawamba AHS, Alcorn Central and Lafayette County the area representatives. Aberdeen, Houston and West Point moving down from 5A will be in Division 2.

Oxford had the best finish, fifth, of an area school in the 4A State Tournament last year, with Itawamba sixth, Tishomingo ninth and Houston 14th.

The area’s Division 1-3A golf schools promise to be just as competitive as 4A, with New Albany, Amory, Pontotoc, Kossuth and Corinth moving down from 4A.

“We’ve got a real competitive group (division), and we’ll really have to work hard to be in there with them,” Pontotoc coach Jimmy Mitchell said. “Our one, two and three players are solid for us, but we’ve got to have some kids fill the other slots.”

Of the teams in the division last year, Mitchell feels that New Albany and Amory are the area favorites, with Corinth coming down from 4A to challenge, and non-area Senatobia always strong. Last year at the state tournament, New Albany led after the first day, then held on to finish second.

Class 2A last year saw Bruce earn the area’s best finish in the state tournament at fourth.

Bruce has a good shot at going to Jackson out of Division 3 again, while golfers from Booneville, Okolona, South Pontotoc, Hatley, North Pontotoc and Belmont will represent the area from Division 1.

With only two golf divisions in Class 1A, the odds are very good that an area team has a shot at a state title. Hamilton has a shot at a third straight with three experienced players, seniors Tracy Cockerham, Landon Whitaker and Chad Pounders.

“Those three kids have been with us since the seventh grade,” said Hamilton coach Terry Walters, who does have to share these golfers with baseball as well. “They know what to expect and know the competition level at the state tournament.”

Smithville, Thrasher, Jumpertown and West Union will also have golfers competing at the 1A level.

The State Golf Tournament for Classes 1A, 3A and 4A is May 6-7, while 2A and 5A play May 8-9.

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