Gathering from his own experiences, Cole Eaglebarger is among a senior trio for Nixa’s golf team that coach Jeff Lotz has gained further appreciation for in the pre-season.
Eaglebarger and fellow seniors Hunter McDaniel and Caleb Faulk have assumed leadership responsibilities for the Eagles in fine fashion.
“I was a section leader in band for 14 people in the french horn section, so it hasn’t been that much of a transition for me,” Eaglebarger said. “Also, when I was younger and joined the team, I had a cousin (Dusty Middleton) and a friend (Gavin Farrar) who were older players and helped me along. For the most part, we try to lead by example.”
“What I appreciate about them is they’ve handled the younger guys well,” Lotz said of his seniors. “When we had had tryouts, typically the freshmen are so nervous. I put them with an upperclassman and these three guys were very patient and showed them good leadership.
“They’re excited about the season and have worked hard,” he added. “They’re still working on their game. Cole has been steady. The other two are kind of shaking the rust off from the winter.”
Eaglebarger, McDaniel and Faulk are among a group of seven or eight players vying for spots in Nixa’s starting five. Eaglebarger Faulk and Sam LaRocca are the only players who have all but assured themselves of a starting spot.
“Cole and Sam are playing pretty well and Caleb was in our starting five last year,” Lotz said. “It’s likely they’ll be in the top five most of the time. It’s going to be very fluid who will be in the top five. There is going to a battle most of the season for our fourth and fifth spots. My job would be a lot easier if I knew who the top five are. But unless there is a clear separation, I can see us having lot of playoff rounds.
“When we won Districts two years ago, we had seven players in a 27-hole playoff to fill two spots. It was nerve wracking for the kids. But they have to handle that pressure because they’re going to have that kind of pressure in a tournament.”
“Nothing is secure,” Eaglebarger said. “You definitely have to work for it.”
LaRocca was the lone Eagle last year to emerge from Districts and compete at Sectionals. He was sixth at Districts.
“Sam is a solid, steady player,” Lotz said.
In addition to its District title, Nixa won the COC championship two years ago. The Eagles stumbled to a seventh-place finish a year ago.
“We were trending pretty good last season, getting better and better," Eaglebarger said. “But when it came time for conference, we all kind of all flopped at once.”
Lotz is confident Nixa will bounce back.
“My expectation is for us to finish in the middle of the conference or higher,” he said, while listing Carthage Carl Junction and Ozark as the league favorites. “We’re going to be competitive. If we finish in the middle or higher at most of the (15-team) tournaments we’ll be at, I’ll be pleased. If they all play great on the same day, maybe we can get in the top three.”
Nixa debuts at the St. Charles Bogey Hills Invitational on Monday. The Eagles will face off against Ozark on Thursday at Fremont Hills Country Club.