In what was expected to be a rebuilding year, the Kaneland boys golf team has enjoyed surprising success this season.
Despite losing five of six scorers from last season to graduation, the Knights finished their dual match season with a 5-2 record after a 12-stroke win over Yorkville on Sept. 20.
In tournament play, they have placed among the top 10 teams in all eight of their regular-season tournaments and had one second-place finish, two thirds and two fourth-place finishes – all with only one senior among their top six scorers.
In their final regular-season tournament Sept. 23 at Sterling, the Knights placed fourth in a competitive field of 15 teams. Their team score of 315 was one of their best of the season. Champion Riverdale, the No. 1-ranked Class 1A team in the state, won with a 303.
Leading the way for the Knights has been junior Will Marshall, who has won low-round medalist honors in 17 tournaments and dual matches over the past three seasons.
“I think [my play has] been solid and consistent and that I’ve played with a lot of confidence,” Marshall said. “I’ve been working on my long irons since last spring.”
He’s not surprised at the success Kaneland’s young team has had.
“Freshman Ryan Milton is a neighbor of mine and I knew we had some other really good underclassmen moving up to varsity this season,” Marshall said. “From the start, the team attitude has been great. Our focus has been on playing loose and having fun.”
“Our players have exceeded expectations and even most of their own goals to this point – and that’s an exciting place to be,” Kaneland coach Mark Meyer said. “Marshall, Milton and sophomore Bryce Stair have been our top three players all season, shooting in the 70s and low 80s. Junior Jacob Vogt, sophomore Michael Partoll and senior Rhett Espe will join them to be our team for the postseason.”
The state playoffs for Kaneland begin with regionals on Oct. 3 at Sycamore Golf Club.
The top three teams from that regional and four other regionals will advance to the sectional meet Oct. 9 at Stonewall Orchard Golf Club in Grayslake.
For the past two years, Kaneland has missed qualifying for the state tournament as a team by losing the third-place tiebreaker at the sectional. (Ties are broken by the teams’ lower-scoring fifth player.) The teams the Knights lost to ended up placing fourth and second, respectively, at state.
“Four of our young players have no previous varsity playing experience,” Meyers said. “They have no connection to the past two years, so I don’t think our tough luck at the sectional will have any effect on them. The key for us getting to the state tournament will be the play of our 4-5-6 players.”