C.J. Rugh knew going into the season he had a young team.
With all but two of Knox’s six varsity spots up for grabs among a group of inexperienced, but talented, underclassmen, the third-year head coach of the program with the most wins in Knox sport’s history figured he’d have to be patient.
“I expected it would take nearly the whole season to see how good we were,” Rugh said.
Now with one tournament remaining before the conference championship, Rugh’s patience is paying off.
This past weekend, Knox finished an encouraging sixth in the field of 12 teams at the Community First Credit Union Invitational.
Of the two Midwest Conference rivals in attendance, Knox handily beat Grinnell, a team that bested the Fire by 19 strokes the preceding week, while narrowly losing to a strong Monmouth squad that crushed them as recently as April 12.
On the strength of his one-under-par 71 second round, senior David Marquardt led the team, coming in fifth overall at the invite. He finished only one stroke away from Monmouth’s Jason Pinns, who is shaping up to be Marquardt’s main competition for the individual conference crown.
Sophomore newcomer Kevin Foerster improved again, carding a 158 for the weekend as the team’s second scorer. Freshman Kevin Morris, sophomore Taylor Mueller, and senior Arjun Rao rounded out the scoring.
“I’m encouraged. It’s a big step in the right direction,” Rugh said. “The guys finally seem to be putting together all parts of their games.”
In particular, he cited the much-improved chipping and putting, as well as the team’s intelligent course management as the keys to the revival.
“Still, we’re not there yet,” said team captain Marquardt, who finished second in the conference last year.
“[Our short game] has gone from bad to acceptable,” he said. “But, if we are going to achieve our goals, it needs to be better this weekend and great at conference.”
The team’s goal this season has been winning the Midwest Conference Championship and the automatic national tournament berth that goes along with it. All are aware of the program’s rich history and the guys will be satisfied with nothing less Marquardt said.
Before conference, though, the Fire have one last tune-up against MWC rivals Monmouth, Grinnell and Illinois College this weekend at the Scot-Fire Invitational.
Both courses of the two-round invite should look familiar to the Fire. They play at Monmouth on Friday and at their home course on Saturday.
Tee-off at the Soangetaha Country Club is at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Going into the Scot-Fire Invite, Marquardt hopes to see four golfers scoring under 80 on both days.
He said this is a distinct possibility as many of the guys “have yet to play their best golf.”