Senior captain Dave Marquardt led the Prairie Fire to an encouraging debut last weekend at the Prairie Fire Invitational. Shooting a 71 for his first round, Marquardt carded the lone under-par round in the tournament and followed up with a solid Sunday to record the second lowest score of the weekend.
Marquardt’s efforts helped the relatively inexperienced Knox team start the season with a ninth place finish at their home course. Almost half of the roster were playing in their first collegiate tournament.
Out of the 22 teams at the invite, only three were Midwest Conference rivals. Knox easily defeated Carroll and Beloit, who finished thirteenth and fifteenth respectively in the tournament, while falling to a third place squad, rival Monmouth. Reminiscent of last year’s Fighting Scots, Monmouth was the only team to beat the Prairie Fire at the MWC Championship in 2007.
Later named both Prairie Fire and MWC Golfer of the week, Marquardt was encouraged by the team’s performance over the weekend, but added that there is plenty of room for improvement.
“Up and down the roster, we need to work on our short game,” said Marquardt.
Coach Rugh confirmed this, highlighting course management, chipping and putting, as what the guys most need to focus on.
For the season outlook, Coach Rugh was unsure of what to expect from his squad.
“As inexperienced as we are, it’s hard to tell,” he said. “We’ll have to play a few more tournaments and see how we develop.”
Fresh off their second-place finish in the conference last year, as well as a championship run in 2006 (their nineteenth conference title in the last 24 years, making them by far the winningest in Knox’s history and a dominant force in the MWC), the Prairie Fire enter the 2008 season having lost four varsity members to graduation, three of which consistently scored in the team’s top five.
Marquardt, however, thinks what the team lacks in experience it makes up for in talent. Based on what he’s observed so far this spring, he believes the team is poised to capture first place in the conference — and the national championship birth that comes along with it.
He cites sophomore newcomers Kevin Foerster and Taylor Mueller, freshmen Kevin Morris and A.J. Shule, along with more experienced players such as returning sophomores Mark Janicik and Bryce Goodman, and fellow senior Arjun Rao, the Prairie Fire’s second through fourth scorers respectively this past weekend, as the likely ingredients in the team’s championship run. All of those golfers are competing in a wide-open race for the four scoring positions behind the captain, who will likely contend for individual championship honors in the MWC.
Coach Rugh predicts the team will likely have a different top five each week. Both he and Marquardt believe the healthy competition can only make the Prairie Fire better.
“The whole team knows about the tradition of Knox Golf,” said Marquardt. “Even the new guys realize second just isn’t good enough.”
Knox travels to Dubuque, IA this weekend for the Duhawk Spring Invitational, where the weather could be a concern as parts of Eastern Iowa received light snow Tuesday morning. The team will know at the time of printing whether or not the tournament is on.
Weather permitting, the Prairie Fire will compete against MWC rivals Monmouth and Carroll at Loras College’s home course.