Both men’s tennis and golf competed at the MWC Championships over the weekend. As a whole, the golf team finished eighth out of eight teams following a frigid, rainy Saturday that inflated scores and knocked them out of seventh place. On the individual level, freshman Duncan Wheeler finished tied for third overall, finishing 11 shots off MWC Champion Henry Mulvey and just four shots out of second place.
Tennis got victories from junior Rohail Khan, who won in his number three first round singles flight 6-3, 6-0, sophomore Errol Kaylor, who defeated his opponent 6-1, 6-1 in his number 4 singles flight and the doubles team of freshman Minh Le and Kaylor, who won their first round match in the number two doubles competition, 8-5.
All would go on to lose in the quarterfinals: Khan fell 6-2, 6-1, Kaylor lost 6-0, 6-1, while Le and Kaylor lost 8-0. The team was also able to earn the Midwest Conference Award for Sportsmanship at the event.
According to Wheeler, the golf team went into the competition with the goal of not finishing in last. And for the first two days, they accomplished their goal, finishing the second day of the competition eight shots ahead of Lawrence University, good enough for seventh place for the Prairie Fire.
However, a trio of Knox golfers, sophomore Patrick Martin, junior Dan Ives and freshman James Barrington shot +20 on the final day, while freshman Justin Dunn shot a +25. This performance was poor enough to drop the Prairie Fire into eighth place. Head Coach KC Harding believes the inclement weather, 40 degree temperatures and driving rain, on the third day showcased the youth of the team.
“It’s often not the most talented golfer who plays the best on those types of days,” said Harding. “Some people use rain as an excuse for everything. By the time they’re four holes in, they haven’t put any effort in because they see a cop outÉ The ability to avoid that really comes from experience, and our team hasn’t had much of that.”
While not finishing in last might not seem a particularly monumental goal, Harding was disappointed in his team’s inability to accomplish it. This tournament marked the last MWC season for Lawrence, who are becoming a club team after this year. Because of that, Harding believes Lawrence brought something extra to the table that the Prairie Fire just didn’t have.
“Lawrence’s coach probably said to those guys, ‘This is your last season in the MWC; do you want everyone to remember you going out on the bottom?’” said Harding. “And because of that, they just seemed to want it more. We can’t just accept failure like we did. I hope everyone on this team has a sour taste in their mouth. They just didn’t have the fortitude to get it done this weekend.”
Wheeler, however, provides optimism for the future, as does Harding’s reinstatement as a full-time coach. Wheeler put together a performance at the tournament that Harding believes any MWC senior would have been happy with: Third place is no small deal for someone who is getting their first taste of collegiate-level golf. For Wheeler, he is already looking for ways to improve.
“I need to focus on not allowing myself to plateau where I am right now,” said Wheeler. “It would be easy to sit back and relax and continue to have the same result year after year, but instead I’m using it as an opportunity to improve on aspects of my game that are weaker.”
Harding believes having more time and resources to focus on the program affords an easy recipe for success. Harding was previously employed as a part-time coach, a practice not uncommon in small programs like Knox. However, those positions are typically filled by retired professionals who have time to devote outside of what they’re paid for, while Harding couldn’t commit the time, until now.
This advantage especially affords him an opportunity to build relationships with potential recruits. Because of this, Harding sees the future of the program as bright. He has his eyes set on the 2016-17 season as a turning point for the program, anchored by solid recruits like Wheeler.
These relationships have obvious value in team sports, given the actual interplay between players, but relationships between coach and teammates as well as inter-teammate relationships are also extremely important in individual sports.
“When you throw shots away as a golfer, you’re obviously hurting your individual performance,” said Wheeler. “But you’re also impacting your teammates with every shot. So even if you don’t want to play for yourself, there’s a lot more to play for.”
Harding feels like a sizable amount of the pressure for team chemistry falls on his shoulders, in addition to the obvious impact the players themselves wield.
“Team chemistry is almost 100 percent dependent on good coaching and recruiting,” said Harding. “When you let yourself down, you let your teammates down, too … And this team gets that. This is a team that plays for one another and is willing to work for one another.”
Tennis, too, should have its eyes on the future. While their performance at the tournament was undeniably disappointing in some regards, the team hopes to see some more stability next season, given the youth of their roster. The Prairie Fire team was half newcomers, and their taste of MWC experience will undeniably better their approach and performance going in to next season.
More immediately for the golf team, Wheeler believes they need to improve their mental approach to the game in order to move toward success.
“I feel like a lot of people on the team were pretty complacent with where they were all season,” said Wheeler. “Then we get to the championship and they’re frustrated with how they played … I think the tournament taught us that if we put in the effort, any of us can compete at the top. It instilled a mentality of hard work, which is the first step toward success.”