Harding Academy boys golf team wins 3A state title

By Donna Stephens Published November 28, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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From the left, Jordan Hardin, Reid Maddox, Jon Poole, coach Scott Diles, Ethan Eads, Peyton Wilhoit and Jared Cooper stand with their Class 3A State Tournament trophy.

SEARCY — Winning state championships has become a habit for Harding Academy.

The Wildcats swept the big three — football, basketball and baseball — during the 2012-13 school year, and they picked right up this fall with the Class 3A state boys golf title.

They finished third in golf last year.

“It’s been pretty amazing,” said Scott Diles, the second-year golf coach. “All those last year were team sports, and we had lots of good players,

but the key ingredient for all those was Will Francis (now playing basketball at Harding University). He was something else.

“Golf is the first sport to finish in the fall, and to my knowledge, Harding Academy has never won it before.”

This one was exciting.

In the Class 3A State Tournament, teams play four golfers and count the best three scores. Led by junior Peyton Wilhoit, who won his second-straight individual state title with 2-under-par 70 at Chamberlyne Country Club in Danville, the Wildcats tied Episcopal Collegiate with a team score of 241.

A two-player team sudden-death playoff ended when Wildcats Wilhoit and Jared Cooper both parred the first extra hole, and the Episcopal players bogeyed.

Cooper, a senior, shot 80 to tie for ninth in regulation. Senior Jon Poole shot 91 and classmate Ethan Eads 92.

Wilhoit said the double victory was especially satisfying.

“Every week on the PGA Tour, they talk about players defending, and the fact that I did it felt pretty cool,” he said of the individual title. “The team win was a great feeling. I know how hard everybody had worked all year, and the fact that it came in a playoff made it that much more exciting.”

With Wilhoit — the 2013 Arkansas State Golf Association’s Junior Boys Player of the Year — returning for his senior year in 2014, the Wildcats could be in contention to repeat their success.

“We’ll definitely have an individual front-runner, but my younger players will have to do quite a bit of improving,” Diles said. “But golf is one of those things you can play and play and play all summer and show up in the fall with 10 strokes off your score, so it can be done.”

Diles, 35, a graduate of Central Arkansas Christian, is in his 13th year at the Academy. He teaches social studies and American and European history and described himself as “the fill-in coach.”

“Wherever they need some help, I go,” he said. “I did two years of football, and I helped start the softball team and was there for two years. I helped with senior baseball one year and six years with tennis before golf.”

The most versatile coach is also one of the school’s most successful — at least in terms of championships won.

“I’ve been the coach with the golden touch,” Diles said, chuckling. “I was part of our 2002 football championship and part of our 2008 baseball championship before this golf one.”

He said Dennis Rine, now the school’s counselor, had also been involved with three state titles — two as assistant football coach and one as head baseball coach.

“That’s so ironic because of all the coaches, I probably had the least amount of influence on the outcome,” Diles said. “In football, I coached running backs on a team that passed most of the time. In golf, you don’t do a whole lot of coaching other than keep their attitudes right and make sure they don’t fall apart.

“I guess now I need to get involved in basketball or something.”

Wilhoit said the Wildcats keep their success in perspective.

“We’ve been blessed to win a lot of state championships, and everybody around school just loved it,” he said. “We love them, but we know we’ve still got to work hard every day.”

None Donna Stephens can be reached at .

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