McAlester’s golf season starts Monday in its traditional locale: Ardmore. The Buffs will play 18 holes at Lakeview Golf Club, then 18 more at Dornick Hills Golf & Country Club.

Ardmore will hopefully be the Buffs’ first step back to the Class 5A state tournament. The Buffs made State in 2014 and finished 12th.

Buffs coach Chris Zike knows a thing or two about making state tournaments. The Buffs made State four times during his five-year stint as head coach from 2009-13.

Zike left golf after the 2013 season to focus on running McAlester’s boys’ basketball team. Jude Schlesselman took over and got the Buffs to State in 2014, but his departure after the 2014 football season left a vacancy for Zike to fill.

“Coach (John) Homer asked me to help him out this year,” Zike said. “I try to teach all these kids to be team players, so in return I need to be a team player as well.”

Zike will have three golfers back from last year’s State team. Senior Dexter Brown is a three-time state qualifier — with the Buffs in 2012 and 2014, as an individual in 2013 — and is expected to return as the team’s top bag.

Brown finished among the top 30 individuals at State last year. He was also named the Buffs’ 2014 Player of the Year at their annual awards banquet, and Zike said Brown has already drawn interest from collegiate golf teams.

“His goal would be to finish in the top five at State this year,” Zike said of Brown.

“If he goes out and plays well, he’s going to have an opportunity to be right there.”

Juniors Garrett Carrion and Brady Justice are also expected to make varsity. Both went to State last year, and Zike said Justice has “improved tremendously since the last time I saw him.”

“There’s no shot he doesn’t like,” Zike said of Carrion. “He’s a high-risk guy. If there’s an opportunity to go for it, he’s going to go for it.”

Layne Braswell, a sophomore, should make varsity this year, having competed in four varsity tournaments as a freshman and won the team’s Newcomer of the Year award. Braswell is currently playing basketball, Zike said, so it may take a few weeks for Braswell to regain his golf mechanics and timing.

McAlester’s top four bags seem set, but Zike said the fifth remains an open competition and could change throughout the season. About 12 golfers have been showing up for preseason practices at the McAlester Country Club.

The Lady Buffs start their season March 6 at the Durant Tournament at Chickasaw Pointe Golf Club. The Lady Buffs surprised several teams, including perhaps themselves, with a fifth-place showing at Regionals last season to reach their first state tournament since 2010.

“It was not supposed to happen that way, but that’s the great thing about sports,” McMurray said. “The underdogs are able to pull it off.”

This will be McMurray’s first season as a head coach. She’s been an assistant softball and basketball coach for the last six years.

“I’ve learned a lot of organizational skills from Coach Burns and Coach Kelleya Cox, so it should be good,” McMurray said, referring to basketball coach April Burns and softball coach Kelleya Cox. “I’m excited.”

McMurray said she’ll have about six golfers this spring. Current basketball responsibilities have kept her in the gym, just as they have for Zike, so she might need the first few weeks of golf season to get to know her roster.

Sophomore Madalyn Nix should be among the Lady Buffs’ top bags. Nix shot a personal best 97 at Regionals last season, then went on to post McAlester’s lowest score at State and earn the team’s Most Improved Award.

Sophomores Katherine Battles and JoHanne Kalin also return from last year’s state qualifying team. Battles set a personal best at Regionals in 2014, and both helped the Lady Buffs finish 11th at State.

“Those are always goals to have, is to win the Region and State,” McMurray said.

“I understand that we have a lot of girls that have maybe not had much experience with the game, so I’m excited to get to teach them.”

McMurray said she grew up in Thackerville on the southern border of Oklahoma. Her high school didn’t offer competitive golf, but golf has always been part of her family life.

“My Great Uncle Joe played nearly every day of his life until he couldn’t remember his golf scores anymore,” McMurray said.

McMurray said golf appeals to her because it’s more about challenging oneself than playing against an opponent. Zike described it as a “game of integrity.”

“It’s a game that you can never conquer,” Zike said. “One day you can go out there and play really well. The next day, you go play really bad and you never want to pick up another club again.”

The Buffs will also be at Chickasaw Pointe on March 6, then host the McAlester Invitational at the Country Club on March 9. The Lady Buffs follow up the Durant Tournament with the Broken Bow Tournament on March 10 at Cedar Creek Golf Course.

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