CALEDONIA — Avery Pool smiles every time she sees the old golf clubs.
The clubs, which belong to her father, were the first ones she used when she decided she was going to learn how to play golf the summer before her freshman year.
Up until that moment, Pool had played softball, basketball, and soccer. But Pool, who had attended Annunciation Catholic School in Columbus, wanted to try something new because she was going to a new school, Caledonia High.
The only experience Pool had with golf was on the putt-putt courses, so she didn’t mind using her father’s old clubs.
A couple of months later, Pool had clubs of her own and was on her way to becoming one of the state of Mississippi’s top players.
“I just loved it,” Pool said. “I had never tried it and the first swing, I loved it.”
Pool doesn’t remember how far the ball went. She smiles and says it probably didn’t go very far — if at all — but she has left those days in the rear-view mirror and matured into a leader on the Caledonia High girls golf team.
On Thursday, Pool took the next step in her golf journey as she signed a National Letter of Intent to play at the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Alabama.
Pool knew she was going to have to play catch-up to compete against opponents who had been competing since they learned to walk. She said the progress was slow initially, but she said her love for the game helped to keep her motivated and to stay patient and to keep working on her craft. She credited former Caledonia High boys golfers Eli Hemphill and Parker Humber for their encouragement and advice to help stoke her passion.
Caledonia High golf coach Bradley Tate remembers how the girls golf team came together in his church’s Sunday school class. He said Pool has made tremendous strides to become a polished player.
“She has put in a lot of hard work,” said Tate, who last season was named the Mississippi Association of Coaches Golf Coach of the Year. “She is a great kid, a Christian kid. She doesn’t run with trouble-makers and has her head screwed on super tight. She has a short-game coach and a swing coach (Tim Yelverton and V.J. Trolio at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point), and she started looking at college in 10th grade. Colleges started looking at her seriously last year.
“She just eats, drinks, and sleeps golf.”
Pool feels she is right there with some of the state’s top golfers. In fact, she said New Albany High’s Lucy Martin and Amory High’s Karli Knox are two friends she has made after spending hours on the greens. Pool feels her confidence has grown with each tournament and each strong showing.
The Caledonia High girls golf program has grown with Pool. In 2015, the team finished second in the region and sixth at the state meet. In 2016, Pool earned medalist honors at the Mississippi High School Activities Association Region 3 meet at Lion Hills Golf Course. Caledonia tied for fifth (194) at the rain-shortened Class II State Championship at Cleveland County Club. Pool shot a 90.
Last season, the Caledonia High girls golf team entered the Class II State Championship as the No. 1 seed for the first time. Pool, Claudia Garcia, and Evana Baggett acknowledged they felt the weight of being one of the top teams. But they agreed they shook off a tough first day and played a solid second day to finish with a 342. Germantown won the title with a 324.
Pool shot rounds of 86 and 79 for a 165, which helped her finish sixth. Germantown’s Presley Baggett won medalist honors with a 143.
Also last season, the Caledonia High School boys golf team won its second-consecutive Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State Championship. Hunter Logan earned medalist honors to lead Caledonia to a two-day total of 653, which was good enough to beat second-place St. Stanislaus by 22 strokes.
The Caledonia girls could be in line to achieving the same success. Tate and Pool like the team’s chances in 2018.
Pool hopes she can continue to improve this season so she and her teammates can add to their list of accomplishments.
Judging from the trophies and honors that were on display Thursday for Pool’s signing, there are more great things to come for her and the Caledonia High golf program.
“My parents have encouraged me, supported me, and taken me to tournaments,” Pool said. “It was kind of crazy at the beginning because it was something new. It was like, ‘Golf, where did that come from?’
“My friends have encouraged me, too. V.J. and Tim have helped me a lot. I owe all of my improvement to them. I have been going there for two-and-a-half years and they have constantly helped them out.”
Pool said there never was a feeling she would give up golf and pick another sport that more people or more of her friends played. She said the friendships she has developed playing golf “have been better than anything” and have fueled her desire to get better. The thought of playing golf in college is still something that is sinking in.
“It is kind of surreal,” Pool said. “It doesn’t seem like it is real, but it is so exciting to have the opportunity because I have been only playing for three-and-a-half years and not everybody gets the opportunity to play a sport in college.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.